Arts & Culture

Wichita stages: Holiday theater preview 2014

Cirque Dreams Holidaze features 30 performers from 12 countries wearing 300 glittering costumes and cavorting amid giant candy canes, 30-foot toy soldiers and mountains of brightly-wrapped gifts.
Cirque Dreams Holidaze features 30 performers from 12 countries wearing 300 glittering costumes and cavorting amid giant candy canes, 30-foot toy soldiers and mountains of brightly-wrapped gifts. Courtesy photo

Are you wishing for a Christmas with “Plaid Tidings” all around?

Or are you ready for Scrooge confronting the ghost of Bob Marley – yes, the reggae idol – instead of his greedy, ghostly partner Jacob Marley in “A Christmas Carol”?

Or, how about celebrating the season with a pair of singing, dancing ice fishermen from Wisconsin, a rambunctious Gingerbread Man or even Sherlock Holmes?

The stages of Wichita’s theaters are more than ready to oblige with 13 live shows during the next seven weeks or so that feature shows ranging om holiday-themed Broadway musicals to original musical-comedy revues to dazzling international circus acts to outrageous melodrama spoofs to annual visits with favorites like “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” and “Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.”

This holiday season also brings the grand opening of the new Roxy’s Downtown, taking over the space occupied for more than two decades by Cabaret Oldtown. This season also marks the debut of the four-year-old Forum Theatre in its new home at the national landmark Scottish Rite building at First and Topeka.

Here’s a look at what’s coming to help you plan your holiday outings. Enjoy.

Mosley Street Melodrama

“A Bad Christmas Carol, or Scrooge You” (Nov. 13-Dec. 30): Imagine a version of Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic with the ghost of reggae musician Bob Marley instead of the ghost of greedy businessman Jacob Marley tormenting Ebeneezer Scrooge and you get a glimpse into the demented silliness of Tom Frye’s original new holiday spoof.

“I like to think I’m actually making Charles Dickens spin in his grave,” jokes Frye, the veteran actor, director and teacher who has become a prolific playwright at Mosley Street Melodrama, spoofing familiar movies, celebrities and politicians and inserting wickedly funny local references. “This is ‘A Christmas Carol’ with a real twist.”

As per most of his melodramas, which Frye directs himself, most of his cast members take multiple, quick-change roles. The only constant in this one is Nathan Houseman as penny-pincher Scrooge. Steve Hitchcock is Young Scrooge, Scrooge’s nephew Fred and Tiny Tim as well as the ghost of Bob Marley. Jenny Mitchell is the Ghost of Christmas Past, one of the Cratchit children and a street vendor. Briley Meek is the Ghost of Christmas Present, Young Scrooge’s girlfriend and another one of the Cratchit kids. Dylan Lewis is Bob Cratchit and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. And Patty Reeder is Mrs. Cratchit and Cruella DeVil Adams, Scrooge’s potential mother-in-law.

Following the melodrama will be “Mistletoe Mayhem,” a musical-comedy revue put together and directed by Patty Reeder and starring the same six players. The range is from traditional holiday carols to modern takes like Bette Midler’s “Cool Yule” to lip sync spoofs a la Jimmy Fallon, Reeder says. Karla Burns is music director and Tim Harshbarger tickles the ivories to accompany.

Details: Performances at 234 N. Mosley in Old Town; shows at 7:50 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (doors open at 6, dinner 6:15-7:30). From Nov. 26-Dec. 30, shows at 7:50 p.m. nightly plus 1:50 p.m. Saturday matinee (doors open at noon, buffet 12:15-1:30 p.m.). Tickets: Dinner/show, $28 adults, $23 seniors 60+, $21 children under 12; Show only: $17 all ages. Call 316-263-0222. Info: www.mosleystreet.com/.

Prairie Pines

“Guys on Ice: The Ice Fishing Musical” (Nov. 21-22 & 28-29, Dec. 3-7, 10-14 & 17-23): The guys are back after a six-year hiatus in the venue’s most-requested encore. Two fishing buddies in northern Wisconsin spend Christmas in their shanty on the ice musing and singing about life, love and the one that got away. Mike Roark, who is directing, is back as Marvin and Ed Baker is back as his buddy, Lloyd. Kip Scott, Prairie Pines’ founder, returns as Ernie “Da Mooch,” who crashes the guys’ icy idyll a couple of times to hilarious results.

“This is the show that started it all at Prairie Pines, and it’s the fourth time we’ve done it in 11 years. It’s one of my favorite shows, too, because it really connects with the audience,” Roark says. “I think the appeal is that it’s just so darn simple. These guys are so down to earth and relatable. They are so easy-going in their back and forth about women, fish and beer. It’s mostly funny, but it also turns serious a couple of times to make a point. But it’s definitely a family-friendly show.”

Steve Rue is back as music director, and he and Joan Ehresman will alternate accompanying on piano. Between acts there will be some audience participation contests with prizes, Roark says.

Details: Performances Thursday-Sunday and Dec. 22-23, at 4055 N. Tyler Road. Doors open at 6:15 for cider and browsing in Old Barn Christmas Shop, catered buffet from 6:15-7:30, show at 8. Tickets: $29.95-$33.95. Call 316-303-2037.

Crown Uptown Theatre

“A Crown Christmas: Our Holiday Spectacular!” (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): Now that she’s consulting artistic director at Crown Uptown since she closed her Cabaret Oldtown earlier this year, Christi Moore says she is approaching this original holiday musical comedy revue more like “The Carol Burnett Show” than the “Saturday Night Live” approach she used before. “The Crown audience is more family-oriented, so it was an easy change,” says Moore, who is writing as well as directing.

“It won’t be just like Burnett’s show, but it will be in that style of taking great musical talents and using them in comedy skits as well. We are taking great music from all eras, from traditional Christmas carols to jazzy, modern versions. It will run the gamut,” Moore says. Among the skits is a fast-forward version of “The Nutcracker” plus an audience participation game show.

Starring are Monte Wheeler, Shannon McMillan, Luke Walker, Austin Stang, Max Wilson and Moore herself, who is also emcee for the evening. Highlights include Wheeler’s version of Josh Grobin’s version of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” McMillan paying homage to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Jingle Bells” and Stang’s tap-dance tribute to “Winter Wonderland.” Backing them up will be two, alternating 10-member children’s choruses ages 9 to 12. Music director Emily Pirtle will lead a five-piece combo and Dora Arbuckle is in charge of the glitzy holiday costumes.

Details: Performances at 3207 E. Douglas; shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $25-$45. Call 316-612-7696.

Roxy’s Downtown

“Plaid Tidings” (Nov. 28-Dec. 23): This 2001 holiday romp is a sequel to the popular 1990 off-Broadway “Forever Plaid,” about a clean-cut guy group from the 1950s coming back from the spirit world to perform for the big career break that a car crash deprived them off.

This time, they aren’t sure why they’re being brought back until a heavenly call from Rosemary Clooney informs them they are enlisted to bring cheer to a world sadly in need of some bright spots in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This jukebox musical, created by Stuart Ross, contains lots of close-harmony standards like “Three Coins in the Fountain” and “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” plus fresh takes on traditional holiday fare like “Joy to the World” and “Let It Snow.”

Playing the close-knit group of high school buddies are New York guest actor Joe Boover as Frankie, the outspoken but asthmatic leader; Ben Balleau as Jinx, who is prone to chronic nosebleeds; Don Winsor as Smudge, who has a bit of a stutter; and Kyle Vespestad (who also directs) as livewire Sparky.

“SantaLand Diaries” plus “Cindy Summers’ Christmas Garland” (Nov. 30-Dec. 21): Also playing for the holidays – on Sunday and Tuesday while “Plaid Tidings” gets the rest of the week – is “SantaLand Diaries,” a one-act performed by David Stone and directed by Deb Campbell, based on humorist David Sedaris’ essay made popular on Public Radio. The 45-minute show centers around a middle-age man confiding to his diary about his unexpected adventures of taking a job as one of Sana’s elves at Macy’s.

Paired with “SantaLand” as a double-feature is local vocalist Cindy Summers’ one-woman holiday show where she performs holiday songs in the personas of Judy Garland, Patsy Cline and Karen Carpenter. Summers is known for her spot-on vocals in such shows as “Always…Patsy Cline.”

Details: Performances at 412½ E. Douglas (the former Cabaret Oldtown space); “Plaid Tidings” at 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday with special shows at 8 p.m. Dec. 23; Cindy Summers at 8 p.m. and “SantaLand Diaries” at 9 p.m. Sundays and Tuesdays. Tickets: Show only $22; dinner/show for “Plaid” $32 (doors open at 6:30 p.m., food service 6:30-7:30). Call 316-928-2288.

Wichita Community Theatre

“The Game’s Afoot (Holmes for the Holidays)” (Nov. 28-Dec. 21): Director Mark Schuster is having so much fun with Ken Ludwig’s award-winning new Sherlock Holmes murder-mystery comedy – “The Game’s Afoot (Holmes for the Holiday)” – that he almost regrets not performing in it himself. “I’ve been in three of Ludwig’s shows, so I felt it would be a good match to direct one. But now I’m having second thoughts because the set – one of our heavier builds with its rotating wall, staircase and place to hide a body – looks like such fun to play on,” Schuster says with a chuckle.

The show, by the prolific writer of crowd-pleasers “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Fox on the Fairway,” won the 2012 Edgar Allen Poe Award for best play as selected by the nation’s mystery writers. Set in 1936, it revolves around a famous actor whose claim to fame is originating the role of Sherlock Holmes on Broadway. He is hosting a Christmas weekend at his gaudy Connecticut castle when one of his guests turns up murdered and he decides to use his experience as Sherlock to solve the mystery.

Playing the actor-turned-detective is Steve Miotto. Invited guests include fellow actors from his Broadway show played by Dave Weills, Vonda Schuster, David Krasky and Miranda Windholz as well as Becky Jenek as a reporter/critic known for negative stories. Misty Maynard is the host’s mother and Charlene Grinsell is Inspector Goring, sort of a Miss Marple type, called to the castle after the murder.

“I enjoy the way Ken Ludwig writes. I like his style. I got to meet him in person in New York at a conference where he was a guest speaker, and he turned out to be a fascinating person. That’s why I wanted to do this show,” Schuster says. “He loves to write so much that he even writes plays for high schools and doesn’t charge royalties. He’s really a great person.”

Details: Performances at 258 N. Fountain; opens Friday after Thanksgiving with shows at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday (final Sunday at 2 p.m.). Tickets: $14 adults, $12 seniors/military/students (special $10 tickets on opening night). Call 316-686-1282.

Forum Theatre

“Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol” (Dec.11-20): This sleek, 90-minute musical version of Dickens’ classic tale of the miserly Scrooge and his scary and wondrous adventures with a gaggle of lively – and sometimes scary — Christmas ghosts was commissioned in 2011 to become an annual family-friendly holiday treat. “Every year, we add some new things to keep it fresh and interesting for people who have seen it before,” says Kathy Page Hauptman, founder of the Forum Theatre and director of this show.

This will also be the first Forum production in its new home at the Scottish Rite building at First and Topeka downtown. “The space is so appropriate for this particular show because of its Victorian elegance and its grand staircase,” Hauptman says. “We even have the opportunity to use some of their beautiful 100-year-old painted drops. It will be like a whole new show.”

Playing Scrooge for the second year is Shaun-Michael Morse with Karla Burns and Cary Hesse returning as, respectively, the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Christmas Past. Cameron Carlson is Scrooge’s beleaguered employee Bob Cratchit and Megan Parsley is his wife. Larry Hartley is Scrooge’s greedy partner Jacob Marley and Chelsea Moore is the young Scrooge’s lost love, Belle.

Tim Raymond returns as music director, conducting an ensemble of piano, harp, violin and flute. The show was created by composer Paul Jackson and writer Conrad Jestmore.

Details: Performances at 332 E. First St.; shows at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $23 Thursday and Sunday, $25 Friday and Saturday; catered dinner available at all performances for extra $15. Call 316-618-0444. Info: www.forumwichita.com.

Theater League

“Cirque Dreams Holidaze” (Dec. 6): For 20 years, New York native Neil Golberg has been living his dream of finding unique performers from around the world and crafting circus and variety spectaculars in the vein of Cirque du Soleil but less weird and more family-friendly. His “Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy” and “Cirque Dreams Illuminations” have played Wichita during the past decade as part of Theater League’s offerings. This holiday season brings “Cirque Dreams Holidaze,” which premiered at Kennedy Center.

The single performance is a bonus for the four-show Theater League season, and it features 30 performers from 12 countries wearing 300 glittering costumes and cavorting amid giant candy canes, 30-foot toy soldiers and mountains of brightly-wrapped gifts. It’s a showcase for original music, exotic dance and daring acrobatics with gingerbread men flipping in mid-air, toy soldiers marching on wires, reindeer soaring overhead and puppets and penguins dancing.

Details: Single performances at 7:30 p.m. in Century II Concert Hall. Tickets: $75-$35; call WichitaTix at 316-219-4849. Discounts available. Info: http://theaterleague.com/wichita/.

Wichita Children’s Theatre & Dance Center

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” (Dec. 8-10, 12-14): Would you believe this is the 31st annual performance of Barbara Robinson’s beloved tale about six kids learning about the true meaning of Christmas by appearing in a nativity pageant? “It scares me to death to think that we’ve done it that much,” laughs Monica Flynn, executive director of WCT&DC, who has personally directed “Pageant” at least 25 times. “But it has such a beautiful message that it works every time, no matter what. We were one of the first to produce it, and it has become one of Wichita’s cherished traditions.”

The show features six kids without religious upbringing who audition for a church nativity pageant because they heard the minister gives away cookies and candy. They come for the treats but are transformed by the message of the season, Flynn says. “We cast about 120 adults and kids – mostly kids – each year. The only constant for the past few years is that Kyle Vespestad and Kelly Wonsetler play the parents. Otherwise, everything else is new.”

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (Dec. 11 & 14) The musical version of the TV cartoon is a first-time offering for WCT&DC, replacing the long-running “A Christmas Carol,” which had featured John Boldenow as Scrooge for more than two decades before he retired from the role. “So many other versions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ popped up that we decided to do something different,” Flynn says. “It’s also a show that provides roles for our teen actors age 14 to 18.”

The show is a faithful adaptation of the beloved 1965 special. It centers around perpetually put-upon Charlie Brown, who is trying to reject the commercialism of Christmas and sort out the true meaning of the holiday for Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and the rest of the gang with the help of a pathetic but heart-warming tree with one red ornament.

“The Gingerbread Man” (Dec. 3-6, 19-20 at 201 Lulu) Kyle Vespestad is back as the title character in this musical romp about a party dessert that comes alive and proves he has an adventurous mind of his own. Brought back every three years, this holiday tradition is performed by the adult staff at WCT&DC as a participatory theater for young children, who are seated in a circle around the players. Audience members are encouraged to reason with, plead with, sing to and even make a deal with Gingy to make him stay at the party.

Details: Performances at Wichita Center for the Arts, 9112 E. Central (unless noted); call for showtimes. Tickets: $6; special pizza shows, $7.50 (group discounts available). Call 316-262-2282. Info: www.wctdc.com

Music Theatre for Young People

“Miracle on 34th Street” (Dec. 12-14) Veteran local actor/director Tim Robu has always loved the annual TV outing of the 1947 movie about a precocious little girl who doubts that Macy’s Santa is the real deal. And he is thoroughly enjoying directing the 1961 musical version by Meredith Willson, the guy behind “The Music Man.” “I’ve always liked the concept that Santa really does exist and that he wanders in and out to see how people react to him. It’s even more fun to put it together as a musical. There’s even a song about Kansas, ‘My State, My Kansas,’ about how people from Kansas always do the right thing.”

Most of Robu’s cast members are teens, although some members are as young as second grade. The story, based on the story by Valentine Davies and screenplay by George Seaton, follows a single mom, Doris (Kenzie Balthazor), working at Macy’s whose young daughter, Susan (9-year-old McKynlee Stecklein), is skeptical that the genial Kris Kringle (Jeffrey EuBay), who is hired to play Macy’s Santa, is real. It’s up to her mother’s friend, Fred (Alex Reida), a fledgling lawyer, to prove Kris is who he says he is in a court of law.

Other cast members include Jesse Theademan, Evan Schelton, Jake Castillo, Sierra Myers, Ellie Bradley and Louisa Nickel. Emiliy Pirtle is music director and Jonathan Standridge is choreographer.

Details: Performances in Mary Jane Teall Theater in Century II; shows at 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: Adults, $12 in advance, $15 at door; $10 students and groups; at WichitaTix at 316-219-4849 or www.wichitatix.com Info: www.mtypks.org

Crown Uptown Children’s Theatre

“The Year Santa Almost Forgot Christmas” (Dec. 5-6, 11-13, 16, 19-20) Darien Leatherman directs this musical tale about The Jolly Old Elf suffering a bump on the head from a falling package and forgetting about his big day. It’s up to his faithful elves to make sure everything is ready for Christmas Eve. Cast members include the same ensemble performing the main-stage holiday show: Monte Wheeler, Shannon McMillan, Luke Walker, Austin Stang, Max Wilson and Christi Moore.

Details: Performances at 3207 E. Douglas; 12:30 p.m. matinees (doors open at 11 a.m., with kid-friendly buffet 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.) on Friday-Saturday. Tickets: $15. Call 316-612-7696.

Holiday stage shows by opening date

Nov. 13 – “A Bad Christmas Carol, or Scrooge You” at Mosley Street Melodrama

Nov. 21 – “Guys on Ice: The Ice Fishing Musical” at Prairie Pines

Nov. 22 – “A Crown Christmas: Our Holiday Spectacular!” at Crown Uptown Theatre

Nov. 28 – “Plaid Tidings” at Roxy’s Downtown

Nov. 28 – “The Game’s Afoot (Holmes for the Holiday)” at Wichita Community Theatre

Nov. 30 – “SantaLand Diaries” and “Cindy Summers’ Christmas Garland” at Roxy’s Downtown

Dec. 3 – “The Gingerbread Man” at Wichita Children’s Theatre & Dance Center

Dec. 5 – “The Year Santa Almost Forgot Christmas” at Crown Uptown Children’s Theatre

Dec. 6 – “Cirque Dreams Holidaze” for Theatre League at Century II

Dec. 8 – “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at Wichita Center for the Arts

Dec. 11 – “Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol” at Forum Theatre

Dec. 11 – “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at Wichita Center for the Arts

Dec. 12 – “Miracle on 34th Street” at Music Theatre for Young People

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