The Best Things to Do This Weekend, December 15-19

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click to enlarge The Best Things to Do This Weekend, December 15-19

We hope you have a veritable pile of nuts, because The Nutcrackers are coming. Tchaikovsky's durable ballet about Christmas fantasies is performed in multiple styles this week, but that's not all that's going on. There's also a Christmas Carol, a pair of holiday concerts and a comedic play packed with intentionally horrible singing. 

1. See an old Christmas chestnut at the Fabulous Fox
Charles Dickens wrote four more Christmas stories after the success of A Christmas Carol, proof that the old man was not immune to the commercialization of the holiday, even in the 1840s. None of them did as well as the original, which isn't surprising. A Christmas Carol has everything — ghosts, a miser, a kindly father, a disabled child, a haunting vision of a life with no redeeming qualities and a happy ending on Christmas Day. The Nebraska Theatre Caravan brings all of these elements to the stage in its theatrical adaptation of the tale, and throws in historically accurate Christmas carols ("Here We Come A-Wassailing," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen") too. The show is performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday (December 14 to 17) at the Fox Theatre (527 North Grand Boulevard; Tickets are $20 to $49.

2. Laugh at the vocal stylings of Florence Foster Jenkins
Florence Foster Jenkins was a music-loving socialite in the early part of the twentieth century. Her love for singing drove her to perform a series of intimate recitals for her many social clubs. These concerts were famous for Jenkins' complete lack of singing ability. Her soprano floated beyond the grasp of any song's key, and her mushy diction and flamboyant stage persona combined to create a horrible racket — but many people loved her shows anyway. There was something pure in the spectacle; it was awful but entertaining in the way a bad movie can be. The life of Florence Foster Jenkins is the subject of Stephen Temperley's two-character play Souvenir. Jenkins sings once again with her accompanist, Cosme McMoon, thanks to Max & Louie Productions. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (December 15 to 23), and again at 8 p.m. Thursday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 8 p.m. Sunday (December 28 to 31) at the Marcelle Theater (3310 Samuel Shepard Drive; Tickets are $35 to $45.

3. Hear some female voices raised in song
Charis, St. Louis' lesbian chorus, marks its 25th anniversary this year, and of course the ladies are celebrating with a concert. War & Peace features songs about the nature of charity and compassion, the necessary elements for a just society. The program includes Elizabeth Alexander's prescient anthem for change, "Fighting Over What We Believe" ("I see us fighting over what we believe, how to love and how to pray. We begin with hope and resolve and dreams, and end up fighting over what we believe"), as well some lighter songs about the domestic battles that all partners wage on the homefront. Charis: War & Peace is performed at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (December 15 and 16) at the Missouri History Museum (Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue; Tickets are $13 to $20.

4. Watch The Nutcracker (the classic version) ....
The Saint Louis Ballet's annual performance of The Nutcracker is a grand ballet in the old sense. More than 100 dancers (both professionals and children) perform during the holiday favorite, with lavish costumes, extravagant sets and almost 500 cheese cubes (the Mouse King's pay) filling the stage. The story, and that wonderful Tchaikovsky score, remains the centerpiece. Young Clara falls asleep at a Christmas party and slips into a dreamworld in which toys come to life and her new nutcracker becomes a handsome soldier who gallantly defends her against the Mouse King. The Saint Louis Ballet performs The Nutcracker at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday (December 15 to 23) at the University of Missouri-St. Louis' Touhill Performing Arts Center (1 University Drive at Natural Bridge Road; Tickets are $25 to $69.

click to enlarge The Nutcracker without toe shoes? It can be done. - ERIC WOOLSEY
The Nutcracker without toe shoes? It can be done.

5. ... or the non-dance version ....
The Nutcracker has long been viewed as an introductory theatrical performance for children, but that assumes the children in question love ballet. Sarah Brandt has updated the story for the child who isn't mad about dance, with music and lyrics by Neal Richardson. Brandt's The Nutcracker tells the story of Marie, a young girl who's moved with her family to a new town. Now she's facing a Christmas with no friends, but at least her Godfather Dross is looking out for her. He arrives on Christmas Eve with a special gift for her — a nutcracker, which he says is more than it seems to be. During the night Marie discovers that the Nutcracker has come to life — and more surprises await her if she agrees to help him. The Imaginary Theatre Company presents a modern Nutcracker at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday and 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Friday (December 16 to 22) at Nerinx Hall's Heagney Theatre (530 East Edgar Road; Tickets are $8.

6. .... or the multiplayer game-inspired version ....
So many iterations of The Nutcracker! Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company and Dance Project St. Louis combine forces to present an interesting take on the ballet classic, The Endless Forest Nutcracker. Inspired by the Endless Forest, the massive multiplayer online game without either rules or speech that allows you to pretend you're a deer exploring the woods, this Nutcracker is set in a mountain cabin. Clara journeys to the Endless Forest in search of her long-lost sister, discovering an enchanted realm where several important lessons will be learned. The Endless Forest Nutcracker is performed at 4 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (December 16 and 17) at Washington University's Edison Theatre (6445 Forsyth Boulevard; Tickets are $15 to $40.

click to enlarge The Russians are dancing! The Russians are dancing! - DAMIR YUSUPOV
The Russians are dancing! The Russians are dancing!

7. ... or a really Russian version (that's it! we promise!)
So, how many versions of The Nutcracker are too many? The Bolshoi Ballet staged a memorable production in Moscow that was recorded for posterity on December 21, 2014. We're now in the posterior of posterity, so Fathom Events has brought back the performance for a one-day-only encore on the big screen. The Bolshoi Ballet's The Nutcracker, with choreography by Yuri Grigorovich, is screened at 12:55 p.m. Sunday, December 17, at the Marcus Wehrenberg Des Peres 14 Cine (12701 Manchester Road, Des Peres; Tickets are $17.

8. Celebrate the sacred at a Christmas Candlelight Concert

One of the indisputable best parts of every Christmas is the music. We may not get the gift we want, snow or even an apology during the annual airing of grievances, but there will always be music. One of our longstanding cultural treasures is the Bach Society of Saint Louis, which has delivered music for Christmas for more than 75 years. The group's Christmas Candlelight Concert combines a beautiful performance space, the soft glow of candles and two full choruses singing popular and classical Christmas songs. This year's concert stars Handel's glorious Messiah, with the St. Louis Children's Choirs raising their voices with the Bach Society. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 19, at Powell Hall (718 North Grand Boulevard; Tickets are $30 to $75.

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