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Joffrey Ballet Nutcracker
Photograph: Cheryl Mann

12 holiday theater shows to see this winter

The Nutcracker, Scrooge and Cirque du Soleil acrobats returns to the stage at festive shows throughout the city.

Emma Krupp
Written by
Emma Krupp
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Planning something special for Christmas in Chicago this year? Consider an evening (or afternoon matinee) at the theater. After a year of mostly virtual productions in 2020, Chicago theaters are bringing some of the city's most beloved holiday plays, musicals, ballets and variety shows to the back to the stage for in-person performances this season, offering audiences plentiful opportunities to get dressed up and see a festive show or two. Whether you prefer to keep it classic with the Goodman Theatre's A Christmas Carol or check out something entirely different—like a musical parody of the holiday rom-com Love Actually—you're sure to find something to put you in the holiday spirit on our list. FYI: Many of these venues require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend shows, so be sure to visit the venue's website for health protocols before snagging a ticket.

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do during the holidays in Chicago

Holiday theater in Chicago this winter

  • Theater
  • Drama
  • Loop

Now in its 44th year, the Goodman Theatre's annual holiday production returns to the stage this November after last year's switch to an audio adaptation, giving audiences the chance to once again watch Charles Dickens' classic tale unfold in person. The production stars Larry Yando as Ebenezer Scrooge and features—as always—gorgeous (and very festive) sets to underscore the play's touching storyline. 

 

  • Dance
  • Ballet
  • Loop

Since 2016, the Joffrey Ballet has staged an imaginative production of The Nutcracker set at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, featuring choreography from Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. This year's iteration of the ballet is staged at the opulent Civic Opera House, with Tchaikovsky's iconic score performed by the Lyric Opera Orchestra. 

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  • Theater
  • Puppet shows

When stay-at-home orders kept folks from seeing theater in-person last year, the interdisciplinary performance collective Manual Cinema crafted this fantastical (and very of-the-moment) virtual adaptation of A Christmas Carol using paper puppets, live performance and video animation set to an original score. You can watch the visually arresting story—which centers around a curmudgeonly woman who stages a holiday puppet show through Zoom, to magical effect—when it returns to small screens for on-demand streaming this holiday season.

  • Theater
  • Edgewater

In a sea of Christmas plays, a lone Hannukah production emerges: Hershel of Ostropol, the folkloric Jewish trickster, must defend the old town synagogue from goblins as Hanukkah approaches in this stage adaptation of Eric Kimmel's 1989 children's book. The show's musical touches and silliness make it perfect for kids—and best of all, both the in-person and streaming versions of the production are free to watch. 

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  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • Sheffield & DePaul

This musical parody of Christmassy British rom-com Love Actually had its Off-Broadway premiere in 2019, with a cast of six actors playing more than 50 of the movie's star-crossed characters; this year, it arrives in Chicago just in time for the holiday season. Catch rollicking songs like "Keira Knightley Actually" and "The Lament of Laura Linney" and ponder once and for all whether love actually is all around. 

  • Theater
  • Uptown

For 20 years, company members from PlayMakers Laboratory have adapted original stories from elementary school students into hilarious sketches, songs and movement pieces showcasing the creative talents of their young authors, with new stories released every week. This year's holiday edition of the show returns to the live stage for a limited December run at the Neo-Futurist Theater.

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  • Theater
  • Comedy
  • Andersonville

A scroogey Joan Crawford (David Cerda) is visited by three spirits on the set of her new MGM musical biography of the Virgin Mary in Hell in a Handbag’s holiday parody of A Christmas Carol. Will Joan learn to accept the spirit of the season? Find out in this year's staging at Ebenezer Lutheran Church Auditorium in Andersonville. (Note that all audience members will have to display proof of vaccination to attend the show.)

  • Theater
  • Sheffield & DePaul

The American Blues Theater has brought the humble story of George Bailey to life in various Chicago venues for the past 20 years, transforming Frank Capra's classic film into an interactive, 1940s-style radio broadcast production. After going virtual in 2020, the show returns to the live stage at the Victory Gardens Theater this year with original music, holiday carols and plenty of Christmas cheer. 

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  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • Streeterville

Bored of buttoned-up holiday theater? The Ghosts of Hip Hop Past guide Scrooge toward redemption in this free-wheeling "ad-rap-tation" of Charles Dickens' novella from the Q Brothers Collective, infusing the classic story with rap, reggae, dubstep and rock ballads set amid the light-strewn stage of The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, with live beats provided by DJ Supernova.

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  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • Suburbs

In the 1942 film Holiday Inn, retired performer Jim (Bing Crosby) launches an inn that stages rollicking musical numbers every holiday, with music written by iconic composer Irving Berlin. This family-friendly adaption, performed by Drury Lane Theatre in suburban Oakbrook Terrace, takes the story and Berlin's music to the stage, including the movie's Academy Award-winning holiday classic "White Christmas" (which later went on to inspire a different holiday movie, White Christmas). 

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