The Spirit of The Season on Stage
By: Anthony Stoeckert
Writer Anthony Stoeckert talks with friends in the performing arts realm from the Princeton Region, discussing new cultural events and a few new twists on returning holiday favorites.
Season after season, it’s all about tradition, and the Princeton area offers a wealth of tried-and-true plays, concerts, and film screenings that are certain to put even Scrooges, Grinches, and angry elves into festive moods. This year promises to be extra special because some of these events are long-standing traditions that haven’t happened since 2019, before the pandemic shut the world down. And adding to the excitement are some new events and a few twists on returning favorites.
Christmas Carol at McCarter. Speaking of Scrooge, A Christmas Carol is returning to the famed Princeton stage, Dec. 7-24, in a full-out live production, but you can expect something different. For many years, McCarter presented an adaptation written by David Thompson, and 2022’s staging is based on a script by Lauren Keating.
“We were just talking here about how interesting it is that even though it’s a new script and a new director, it is familiar and lovely,” says Sarah Rasmussen, McCarter’s artistic director. “The story is the same story we have all always loved—and Lauren loves it so much, too. This production is a bit of a hybrid—our set and costume designer are the same from recent years.” Rasmussen says the new production is about bringing the story back to the community.
“I am happy we can work with Lauren,” she says. “She grew up here and her first experience with ‘A Christmas Carol’ was at McCarter as a kid with her family. I got to know her when we were both in Minneapolis and saw her beautiful production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Guthrie. She is local now, and it feels right—like it was meant to be. We are really excited to support her version here, where she first fell in love with the story.” For tickets and information, go to www.mccarter.org.
McCarter’s isn’t the only Christmas Carol in the area. Trenton’s Passage Theatre Company is presenting its interpretation of Dickens’ classic, adapted by James Armstrong and Directed by Aaron Oster. This two-person version was presented last year, and the theater’s website promises a production with more rehearsal time, more design elements, and more laughter. Passage’s cozy space at the Mill Hill Playhouse is an ideal setting for this classic ghost story. For tickets and information, go to www.passagetheatre.org or call 609-392-0766
Kelsey Theatre, on the campus of Mercer County Community College, is presenting some of its classic holiday fare—its abridged kid-friendly Nutcracker, Dec. 16-18, and its annual ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, Dec. 2-4. It’s also offering some new things, including a sing-along screening of the classic movie, White Christmas, starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, Nov. 18-20; A Winnie the Pooh Christmas Tail, Nov. 26 and 17; and the farce, The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge, Dec. 9-11. Kelsey has other gifts for audiences—new seating and carpeting, as well as a new listening system that feeds directly into most hearing aids and Cochlear implants. Receiver-and-headsets are also available to borrow. Kelsey is also giving people a chance to get in the giving spirit by bringing a new, unwrapped toy during its Toys for Tots gift collection through Dec. 4. For tickets and information, go to kelsey.mccc.edu or call 609-570-3333.
OK, so you’ve seen your share of Christmas Carols and Nutcrackers and want something different. Actors’ NET of Bucks County just might have what you’re looking for with Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, which serves as a follow-up to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Dec. 2-18. The play promises to be witty and romantic. For tickets and information, go to www.actorsnetbucks.org.
Another area tradition making its return is American Repertory Ballet’s annual presentation of The Nutcracker, which will be danced at McCarter Theatre, Nov. 25-27, Patriots Theater at the War Memorial in Trenton, Dec. 11, and the State Theatre in New Brunswick, Dec. 16-18. For tickets and information, go to arballet.org.
This year, Broadway performer Janet Dacal (In the Heights, Prince of Broadway, Wonderland) and the Princeton High School Choir will join the orchestra for a concert showcasing festive songs and music of the season. Photo Credit: Princeton Symphony Orchestra.
Live music is another hallmark of the holiday season in the area, and Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday POPS! Concert isn’t just a local tradition, it’s a great way to introduce young (and old) people to orchestral music. This year, Broadway performer Janet Dacal (In the Heights, Prince of Broadway, Wonderland) and the Princeton High School Choir will join the orchestra for a concert showcasing festive songs and music of the season. There will be two performances of the program on Dec. 17 at Richardson Auditorium, on the campus of Princeton University. For tickets and information, go to princetonsymphony.org or call 609-497-0020.
No classical work is as synonymous with Christmas as Handel’s Messiah, and the New Jersey Symphony will perform this work on December 16 at Richardson Auditorium. For tickets and information, go to www.njsymphony.org.
Another area tradition making its return is American Repertory Ballet’s annual presentation of The Nutcracker, which will be danced at McCarter Theatre, Nov. 25-27
Finally, Trenton-based Capital Philharmonic of New Jersey will accompany American Repertory Ballet’s Dec. 11 performance of The Nutcracker. “I’ve been working on this collaboration for years and its finally happening,” says Daniel Spalding, music director for the Capital Philharmonic. “I never get tired of this Tchaikovsky score. There is something magical about it.” Then the Philharmonic will ring in 2023 with its annual New Year’s Eve Concert, which this year will celebrate Ella Fitzgerald and will feature soprano Paula Johns, as well as a surprise from principal trumpet Bob Gravener. For more information, go to www.capitalphilharmonic.org.
Lastly, everyone has their favorite holiday movies, and there’s a good chance the Princeton Garden Theatre is screening a few of them as part of its Family Matinee series, Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m. The series kicks off with The Polar Express on Nov. 26, followed by Elf, Dec. 10, and A Christmas Story on Dec. 17. The Garden will also show the classic Christmas in Connecticut, starring Barbara Stanwyck on Dec. 15. For tickets and information, go to www.princetongardentheatre.org or call 609-279-1999.