Who could have predicted that the yearly grumbles about the shrinking separation of winter iconography would guide us to a season for everybody to be jolly? Pre-pando autumn calendars typically featured a few hastily-mounted Halloween spooky-tunes closing promptly on October 31, followed by Fireplace-Food-and-Family fables commencing the day after Thanksgiving and closing Christmas Eve, abandoning audiences to solitary darkness until February.
Not in 2023, however! Too much hurry-up-and-wait over the last few years has diminished our eager anticipation of manic preparations for non-stop revelry concluding in torpid fatigue. In order to alleviate the anxiety engendered by a plethora of activities crowded into abbreviated timetables, many theaters are now taking advantage of formerly underutilized performance dates, thus spreading out their schedules to allow patrons more opportunity for recreational breaks from social obligations—a scheme further facilitated by several companies rejecting the rigidly sectarian gospels of Dickens and Moore in favor of themes expanding the term "holiday spirit" to include "Good Will Toward ALL Creatures."
Wise Guys: The First Christmas Story, Factory Theatre (November 5-December 16). It's Bethlehem or Bust for three theological scholars in the year 0, whose discovery of a new star in the skies of Judea propels them to set forth on a road trip across the barren sands in search of an unknown destination.
Jim Henson's Emmet Otter Jug-Band Christmas, Studebaker Theatre (November 15-December 31). Jim Henson's unforgettable menagerie of furry Muppets, a musical score by Paul Williams and a story about personal sacrifice undertaken to bring happiness to others reflect the puppeteer's legacy in this stage adaptation of the 1977 TV special.
A Christmas Carol, Goodman Theatre (November 18-December 31) For nearly half a century, the Goodman has supplied Chicago with its definitive rendering of Dickens' universal story of regret, reparation and redemption-isn't it time you saw it again?
The Buttcracker: A Holiday Burlesque at the Greenhouse (November 30-December 30) Jaq Seifert's fantasy revue featuring hotcha-cha Tchaikovsky and an array of novelty acts-magicians, fire-eaters, jugglers and exotic dancers-gets bigger and better every year, this time running for a whole month in a bona fide theater.
The Golden Girls Save Xmas: the Lost Episode Parody Series, Hell in a Handbag Productions at the Center on Halsted (December 1-31). The Handbags are donning their gay apparel on the fringes of the Northalsted hub for their annual camp-drag comedy based on the popular television sitcom.
Christmas With Elvis, Chopin Theatre (November 27-January 7). Brenda Barrie and Victor Holstein star in Terry Spencer Hesser's two-person comedy about a sour divorcee visited by the likewise unhappy ghost of the Tupolo Tornado himself-"Are you lonesome tonight" indeed!
Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins, Strawdog Theatre at the Chicago Loop Synagogue (November 30-December 23) If you got lost in Ravenswood alley looking for the earlier productions of this cheerful all-ages fable about a haunted synagogue restored to pristine holiness, you can now find it easily in the temple at the heart of the Loop.
Manual Cinema's Christmas Carol, Writers Theatre in Glencoe (November 16-December 24). The pandemic forced this bittersweet parable of a grieving spinster to premiere online, but the intimacy of shared quarters can only enhance the communal empathy generated by Manual Cinema's delicate blend of shadow-puppetry and live-action performance.
Miss Bennett: Christmas at Pemberley, Buffalo Theatre Ensemble at the McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn (November 16-December 17). Bookish ladies were not yet fashionable when Jane Austen first introduced the five Bennett sisters, but Lauren Gunderson and Margi Melcon's romantic romp is the play she would have written about the two late-bloomers.
It's a Wonderful Life: Live In Chicago, American Blues Theatre (December 8-31). Not only is this nostalgic re-enactment of an old-timey radio broadcast Chicago's longest-running version of this popular holiday favorite (every year since 2002), but the itinerant company has promised us the housewarming of their new permanent home in Lincoln Square.
Christmas Bingo: It's a Ho-Ho-Ho Holy Night, Nuns4Fun at the Greenhouse (November 24-December 30). Church fundraisers are as much a part of the Catholic culture as catechism classes, and Mrs. Mary Margaret O'Brien shows us why in this replica Bingo Night at the Parish (with prizes!).
For a complete list of Holiday Shows In Chicago, visit our Holiday Plays In Chicago page.
PLAYS FOR ALL SEASONS
Witch, Artistic Home at the Den (November 2-December 3). Don't be fooled by the title-Jen Silverman, after deconstructing Gothic Victorian lit in The Moors, does it again in this update of Rowley, Dekker and Ford's 1621 play about a clever woman who outsmarts the devil.
Stupid F**king Bird, Bluebird Arts at Theater Wit (November 4-December 9). The English and Russian-speaking Bluebird ensemble deliver fresh insights into Aaron Posner's wryly analytical comic adaptation of Chekhov's familiar fin-de-siecle classic.
POTUS: Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, Steppenwolf Theatre (November 5-December 10). Is it safe to laugh at anything emerging from the White House in these times? Author Selina Fillinger and the A-Team cast of Steppenwolf all-stars intend to find out.
Twelfth Night, Chicago Shakespeare Company (November 2-26). The music that Duke Orsino calls "the food of love" in Shakespeare's shipwrecked-in-paradise comedy has a calypso beat in this production, relocated to the Caribbean islands for audiences seeking escape from Chicago's raw, blustery lake breezes.
Once on This Island, Pulse Theatre Chicago at ETA Creative Arts Foundation (November 4-19). At Abena Joan Brown's still-thriving Arts Center in Greater Grand Crossing, this Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty mythic musical transports us to an island in the Antilles to surround its heroine with tropical waters and Haitian gods.
The Other Cinderella, Black Ensemble (November 25-January 14) It's the 47th anniversary of Jackie Taylor's groundbreaking fable of the girl from the projects who, with the help of her Jamaican fairygodmama, gains confidence and self-esteem worthy of a royal match, and though the details may have changed with the times, the themes are as timely as ever.
Boop! The Betty Boop Musical, Broadway in Chicago at the CIBC Shubert (November 19-December 31). Max Fleischer's jazz-age cartoon vamp (who can "win you with a wink") is preparing to boo-boo-be-doop to Broadway, but she needs a Chicago audience to ready her long-delayed East Coast debut.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Paramount Theatre in Aurora (November 17-January 14). A deserving orphan boy gets his just rewards-along with a lifetime supply of chocolate-in the musical adaptation of Raoul Dahl's mischievous children's story.
Sleeping With Beauty, Pride Arts (November 16-December 17). The drowsy damsel is named A'whora, her knight-in-shining is Prince Albert and the playwright who gave us Jack Off the Beanstalk last year calls his fantasy-camp "Panto"-so you probably know what to expect.
The Lifespan of a Fact, Timeline Theatre at Baird Hall (November 8-December 23). The boundaries between fiction and fact-and when the first becomes fibbing, and the second, nit-picking, and which of the two better conveys the truth-come up for debate when a young editor discovers that his hero might not be the paragon of literary virtue his reputation proclaims.
The Lion In Winter, Court Theatre (November 11-December 3). It's Christmas in 1183 Anjou, but the scheming and squabbling of King Henry II, Queen Eleanor of Aquataine and a castleful of blue-blooded relatives continues with no sign of a truce in James Goldman's royal romp.
Promises, Promises, Blank Theatre Company at the Greenhouse (Dec 1-30). This Neil Simon-Burt Bacharach-Hal David musical adaptation of award-winning film The Apartment has been moved from its tiny storefront on Granville to the spacious Greenhouse in Lincoln Park..
Hit Me Like a Flower, Curious Theatre Branch at the Facility Theatre (December 15-January 21) Chicago's oldest surviving Fringe Theater company marks its 35th anniversary with a revival of this 2004 production, directed by founding Curious member Beau O'Reilly.
Shrek: The Musical, Music Theater Works at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie (December 21-31) A swamp in December might, at first, seem a cold and gloomy setting for a joyful musical about a lovesick ogre and his loyal friends, but see whether you're not still singing Jeanine Tesori's songs on Valentine's Day.
Can't Pay Won't Pay, Gwydion Theatre Company at the Greenhouse (November 30-December 17). A little Dario Fo goes a long way, but this newly-arrived troupe of Los Angeles expats comes bearing an original translation of the Italian author's 1974 Marxist farce.
AND FOR THE GRINCHES
Even after the bath tissue was cleared from the front-yard foliage and the last peanut-butter cup unwrapped, some Halloween grumps still refused to pack away the skeletons and jack-o-lanterns, but these Krampuses don't need to "Bah! Humbug!" all by themselves for two months. Lurking among the jingle bells are still a few dark narratives firmly grounded in misanthropic motives and/or mockery.
Assassins, Theo Ubique (November 5-December 10). The confessions of our nation's many would-be presidential executioners comprise the historical context of Stephen Sondheim's slyly satirical musical revue.
Night of the Hunter, City Lit, running through December 3. City Lit's shadowy loft should add extra shivers to Shawna Tucker's world premiere adaptation of this 1955 film about a murdering ex-convict who poses as a country preacher to stalk the children he believes know where stolen money is hidden.
Young Frankenstein, Mercury Theater (running through December 31). All you have to know about this irreverent musical spoof of Mary Shelley's gothic horror story to guarantee an evening of full-throttle, unfiltered, guilt-free laughs and slapstick is that it's written by Mel Brooks.
Dail M For Murder, Northlight Theatre at the North Shore Center for the Arts in Skokie (November 30-December 31). Jeffrey Hatcher imposes a few liberties on his adaptation of Frederick Knott's 1952 thriller in order to highlight the social issues associated with domestic gaslighting.
American Psycho, Kokandy Productions at the Chopin, running through November 26. The real-life pre-holiday orgy of greed and consumerist excess should put audiences in the perfect mood for this saga of 1980s amorality and unremorseful deeds.
Night Watch, Raven Theatre, (running through November 12). Lucille Fletcher's housewife-in-danger plot may resemble a vintage golden-age-of-detective-fiction relic, but that's only to hide the surprise ending you'll never see coming.
Mary Shen Barnidge