Thursday, December 7, 2023

Christmas stocking of theater treats draws crowds, kudos in San Diego

Cygnet's final holiday show in its longtime venue in Old Town features a spirited production
with a genuine heart, the classic "A Christmas Carol" featuring the gifted Sean Murray as Scrooge.



(and courtesy theater marketing departments)

UNLESS YOU'RE a real Grinch, you'll find something to tickle your funny bone with a raft of rousing productions on the boards now playing in the San Diego area.
This theater loving corner of the state is recovering from COVID's blow which left houses dark, stages bare and seats empty.
We're among happy legions celebrating live theater's rousing comeback.
Jefferson McDonald and Mathew McGloin delight for a holiday
encore of  "2 Pianos, 4 Hands" at North Coast Repertory Theatre.
We visit 15 San Diego theaters on a regular basis, proud that the city is blessed to have many enchanting theater venues. As grateful members of the audience we give thanks for talented actors, directors, designers, marketing pros and volunteers whose patient persistence keeps us in the limelight. Happily, we offer our annual holiday roundup of "the best on the boards" in theater loving San Diego.

NORTH COAST REPERTORY THEATRE: After an imaginative sell-out performance of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," the popular "2 Pianos, 4 Hands" returns to delight holiday crowds Dec. 15-31. It's a fast-paced blend of comedy and virtuosic musicianship, with two accomplished actor-musicians presenting personal anecdotes, music snippets and bits of musical history. The intimate house offers excellent seating and a pleasing mix ranging from musicals to world premier dramas, comedies and classics.  The steady, creative hand of artistic director David Ellenstein crafts a season that satisfies older patrons while drawing new younger crowds.  He gives imagination a whirl with a lively blend of familiar comforts and new challenging work.  

Cygnet's charismatic artistic director Sean Murray, in
night cap, stars in a spirited "A Christmas Carol." 
  Capping a rousing, beautifully acted run of "The Little Fellow....." a risque comedy about a flamboyant madam, Cygnet Theatre in Old Town presents its popular holiday show through Dec. 26.  Cygnet's engaging  "A Christmas Carol," features artistic director Sean Murray's clever adaptation with the versatile Murray himself perfect as Scrooge. A fine 7-person ensemble puts magic, music and imagination in this beautifully rendered adaptation. As Cygnet wraps its tenure in Old Town, it prepares for its new, renovated home at the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Performing Arts Center at Liberty Station.  Cygnet is also sponsoring a one-woman show featuring the music of the legendary Billie Holiday. "Lady Day" at Emerson’s Bar & Grill recounts Holiday’s life story through the songs that made her famous.
Gifted actor Bryan Banville plays the lead role of
Buddy in ''Elf,'' at Welk Resort Theatre. A terrific cast,
endearing songs, spirited dancing and fast paced 
  scenes are sure to enhance the Christmas spirit.

THEATRE AT THE WELK. The beautifully designed theater, at 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive in Escondido, presents a delightfully uplifting production of "Elf, the Musical." A comedy with soul, it's based on the children’s book and hit Will Ferrell movie about a human boy, Buddy,  raised as a Christmas elf at the North Pole.  A polished cast plays multiple roles as Buddy returns to New York City to find his human family and restore the spirit of Christmas to the jaded Big Apple. Award-winning San Diego actor Bryan Banville plays the lead role of Buddy with tenderness, vulnerability and a voice to melt even the heart of a scrooge. Flashy choreography, multiple costume changes and a first-rate ensemble make this fabulous holiday entertainment for kids of all ages.  Nov. 18-Dec. 24.

Girl singers with flair and beautiful harmonies from the
"R*E*S*P*EPC*T" sell-out join guys from "The Million
Dollar Quartet" in a holiday extravaganza at Lamb's.

LAMB'S PLAYERS THEATRE: Following a brilliantly acted "Jane" -- a riveting, flawlessly delivered take on Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre " -- Lamb's Players presents a polished and tuneful show with favorite top-drawer singers.  "R*E*S*P*E*C*T*F*U*L*L*Y Christmas," runs through Dec. 24. It's a lively vocal creation featuring casts of both "RESPECT" and "Million Dollar Quartet" with a nod to holiday favorites. If you saw either of these first-rate productions at Lamb's, you're in for a musical treat as these tuned up guys and gals collaborate for the holidays.

The Plaids present a jazzy holiday
treat at San Diego Musical Theatre.
SAN DIEGO MUSICAL THEATRE:  Harmony reigns in a holiday edition of the popular doo-wop musical comedy “Forever Plaid.” In this Yuletide version, the long-dead 1960s-era men’s vocal quartet, the Plaids, are resurrected for one night to give the holiday concert they never were able to sing in life. Runs through Dec. 24 The theater presents an admirable mix of musicals, including "In the Heights," which introduced Lin-Manuel Miranda to the world, and the perennial favorite, "Little Shop of Horrors."  SDMT's lively "Forever Plaid " closes the 2022 season. The popular grassroots enterprise made its name with romantic comedy and favorite musical theater offerings thanks to musical-loving founders Gary and Erin Lewis who launched the endeavor in 2006. It has a loyal following for its varied repertoire. 

Taking a bow, the ensemble of "1222 Oceanfront:
A Black Family Christmas" at New Village Arts.
.  This delightful 99-seat theater in Carlsbad headlines its 20th anniversary season with "1222 Oceanfront:  A Black Family Christmas," through Dec. 24. San Diego playwright Dea Hurston’s 2021 lively contemporary holiday musical features fun original music by Milena (Sellers) Phillips, who also stars in the show’s lead role. It’s the story of widowed family matriarch Dorothy Black, hosting a Christmas Eve celebration at her elegant beachside home with her adult son and extended family when unexpected family drama erupts. The musical delivers a joyous mix of original holiday songs with a modern nod to traditional carols.  The ambitious Carlsbad venue produces year-round musical events, cabaret and concert readings of Broadway musicals.
Diversionary Theatre has a new look, and a slate
of four intriguing works with LGBTQ themes.
 Here, the cast of "A Glass Menagerie," a
top production with four fine actors.
DIVERSIONARY THEATRE. The current season at our nation's third oldest LGBTQ theater includes "The Glass Menagerie," the Tennessee Williams classic of a complex family in the 1940s, facing an uncertain future. Lisa Berger deftly directs a first-rate cast featuring Shana Wride, believably endearing in her excess as Amanda, the overbearing mother. Luke Jacobs does a fine job with Williams' poetic narration. The theater is devoted to gay themes and playwrights, including Williams. Diversionary is a small, mind-challenging venue which opened season 36 in its recently renovated space, including a cozy cabaret. Diversionary's enterprising playbill espouses love, honesty, humor and hope with a  mission to inspire and celebrate diverse LGBTQIA stories.
"Man and Moon" caught
the eye of critics and
subscribers alike.
 Watch this ground-breaking company,  known for its generosity to students, and for its diverse repertoire of "female focused" work. Some of the region's best actors have graced Moxie's stage where each season presents surprises and delights. "Man and Moon" just wrapped, featuring the touching story of a transitioning man, Aaron, and Luna, a young girl with a passion for outer space. Watch for more imaginative Moxie works on tap.
ROUSTABOUTS THEATRE CO.: This talented, daring company  features some of San Diego's finest actors and has produced a range of funny, touching and acerbic pieces.  Now, enter an ambitious youth program. The Roustabouts Youth Division presents a concert reading of "Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," the Tony winning musical which follows the biblical story of Jacob's favorite son, Joseph, and his eleven brothers. Joseph is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and is imprisoned by an Egyptian noble before a resolution. Actor Phil Johnson co-directs (company co-founder, brilliant in "A Jewish Joke") with a talented local cast. The readings are Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Scripps Ranch Theatre.

Scripps Ranch Theatre presents lively,
evocative work with humor and heart,
here "A Christmas Carol: A Radio Play."
It's not on this holiday, but look for it.
SCRIPPS RANCH THEATRE. Creative use of space on the campus of Alliant International University provides a welcoming forum for an interesting, diverse season.  In past years, Scripps celebrated the holidays with Scripps Ranch Theatre and Oceanside Theatre Company’s “A Christmas Carol: A Radio Play.” Watch for an encore of the radio play about the story of the Christmas-hating Ebenezer Scrooge and his epiphany. Highlights of the upcoming, ambitious season are "Chapatti," a touching story of romance set in Dublin, and "Vanity Fair," adapted from the W.M. Thackeray novel.
We hope for a return to the holiday show in 2024. 
The classic Dr. Seuss
story of the cranky
Grinch is at Old Globe.

OLD GLOBE: Celebrate the holidays as the Old Globe Theatre is once again transformed into a charming, snow-covered Who-ville. The popular family show is in its 20th year, "Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" is a whimsical musical based upon the classic book. It's up through Dec. 24. featuring memorable songs including “This Time of Year,” “Santa for a Day,” and “Fah Who Doraze,” the delightful carol from the animated classic.
                                                                                         La JOLLA
Actor Matthew Broderick rehearses a scene from
"Babbitt," which is playing to raves for its elegance.
 Through Dec. 10, La Jolla Playhouse limited run. 
 PLAYHOUSE. Carrying on this venerable, top drawer theater's dedication to the unique, La Jolla Playhouse has unveiled its 2024/2025 season, featuring a world-premiere musical, "The Ballad of Johnny and June." And while it's not exactly a holiday show, "Babbitt" offers a thinking person's alternative to the usual lighter yuletide entertainment with Broadway star Matthew Broderick starring in "Babbitt." Christopher Ashley directs the story of a 46- year-old real estate broker in mid-life angst. The Sinclair Lewis novel is adapted for the stage in this already sold-out production, extended through Dec. 10 with a wait list for tickets.
WITH THIS BOUNTY, the holidays are in full flower as theaters march on after a few complicated years. A bang-up, eagerly anticipated holiday theater season begins! 
As the lively arts emerge from the shadow cast by COVID, it is important to support local theater, symphonies, chorales, bands and buskers. And remember that a pair or two of tickets to a play or musical makes an excellent holiday gift -- wherever you live.

Honolulu's City Lights tour offers a hop on and off option.
UP NEXT: While we're in the holiday spirit, take a ride with us on Honolulu's  much loved Waikiki Trolley. Climb aboard for a festive holiday lights tour aboard the trolley.   You'll see highlights of the downtown  area, with a special will take you through the city's historic downtown where you can hop on and off. Remember to explore, learn and live!


  1. What a wonderful mix. Lucky you to live in a lively theater town.

  2. Just saw Cygnet 's "A Christmas Carol." Absolutely terrific adaptation. You're right on about Sean Murray. All the cast is terrific!

  3. We love coming to San Diego because of the lovely weather and fabulous theater. Thanks for sharing.