Cincinnati does the holidays

Whether you are up ‘to hear’ or ‘up to here,’ seasonal entertainment choices abound…

'The Nutcracker'

‘The Nutcracker’


‘Nutcracker All Jazzed Up’ – De La Dance Co.

Dec. 2-3, Jarson-Kaplan Theater, Aronoff Center

Love “The Nutcracker,” but ready for something new? The first act of this hybrid production is choreographed to Duke Ellington’s 1960 earthy, jazz band adaptation, while Act II returns to the more familiar Tchaikovsky score and formal ballet. A great way to experience a classic and its modern re-imagining all in one sitting.

‘The Nutcracker’ – Cincinnati Ballet

Dec. 9-18, Procter & Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center

Fresh off performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Victoria Morgan (see page 12) brings her fresh, fun, visually spectacular production back to bask in the glow of Queen City adoration. Because of already high demand, one performance (Dec. 14) has already been added, so don’t wait to get your tickets.

Hot Sardines / Pops NYE

Hot Sardines / Pops NYE

Cincinnati Pops / John Morris Russell, conductor

Holiday Pops

Dec. 2-4, Taft Theatre

Headlined by TV’s “American Idol” favorite Melinda Doolittle, this is a family-oriented variety show featuring plenty of pop holiday favorites, visual spectacles, costumed characters and much more.

Pops with Over the Rhine

Dec. 20, Taft Theatre

A collaboration with Cincinnati favorite Over the Rhine. The alt-folk duo typically produces its own holiday show at the Taft during the week before Christmas, so this should be an interesting experiment, melding the group’s laid-back atttitude with John Morris Russell’s high-energy enthusiasm.

Pops NYE

Dec. 31, Taft Theatre

The Pops is joined New Year’s Eve by the smokin’ jazz ensemble Hot Sardines for a jumpin’ jive celebration of the art deco flair of the 1920s, the decade in which the Taft Theatre was built. If you’re looking for a similarly themed event to follow, check out Know Theatre’s NYE Speakeasy.

‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’

‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’


‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’ – Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra/Madcap Puppets

Dec. 21-23, Gallagher Center Theater, Xavier University

This biennial production of Menotti’s Christmas gem returns with a new stage director, Dylan Shelton (recently seen in “Pulp” at Know Theatre; see page 10), who should refine this already beautiful and heartwarming show. The stage entrance, alone, of Madcap’s gigantic puppets draws audible gasps from kids and adults alike. And at less than one hour, this is the perfect stage production for kids of all ages.

Early music

‘Noël, Noël: A French Candlelight Christmas’ – Catacoustic Consort

Dec. 3,  St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Terrace Park

Annalisa Pappano has single-handedly kindled Cincinnati’s interest in music created before 1650. This concert is a perspective on Christmas unlike any other in the area, with lush, intimate instrumental and vocal music from the French Baroque, performed in candlelight. If you crave a calm, reflective experience this season, this performance is for you.

Vocal Arts Ensemble

Vocal Arts Ensemble

Choral music

‘A Candlelit Christmas’ – Vocal Arts Ensemble

Dec. 9-11, various venues

VAE remains the premier chorus in the region, hand-picked by Grammy-winning music director Craig Hella Johnson. VAE assistant conductor Stephanie Nash leads these concerts, with repertoire ranging from traditional chants and hymn tunes to harmonically lush settings by living composers. Among the three venues, Northside’s St. Boniface provides the best acoustics.

Handel, ‘Messiah’ – Collegium Cincinnati

Dec. 11, Christ Church Cathedral

Chris Eanes and Manami White have carved out a strong niche for their Collegium Cincinnati, focusing on music of the Baroque and presenting this season’s only professional performance of Handel’s “Messiah.” This performance will feature a nimble chorus, fine young soloists and chamber orchestra, reflective of Handel’s time. Well worth hearing.

Other choral choices…

More interesting choral music can be heard in “Mary: East & West,” a concert of Orthodox and Western Marian music by Cincinnati Camerata (Dec. 10-11), Christmas Miniatures at Knox Church (Dec. 18), and Christ Church’s “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” (Dec. 18) or Britten’s angelic “Ceremony of Carols” for treble voices and harp (Dec. 20). Also, Knox, Christ Church and St. Peter in Chains Cathedral all offer outstanding music at their late Christmas Eve services.


The Bad Plus – Xavier Music Series

Dec. 9, Gallagher Theater, Xavier University

Looking for a break from holiday-themed concerts? This über-inventive jazz ensemble expands the jazz songbook in ways never imagined, from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” to Sting, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd and even Tears for Fears. Another gem from the Xavier Music Series curated by Polina Bespalko.

‘Cinderella: After Ever After’ / ETC

‘Cinderella: After Ever After’ / ETC


‘Cinderella: After Ever After’ – Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati

Nov. 30-Dec. 30, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati

This is the sequel to last year’s take on the traditional story, imagining what happens following “happily ever after” when Prince Freddy and Cinderella move into the palace with her stepmother and self-absorbed stepsisters. What could possibly go wrong…right? Directed by producing artistic director D. Lynn Meyers. Fun for all ages.

‘The Nights Before Christmas’ – Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

Dec. 1-23, Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

Here’s your chance to experience a new holiday musical, with book and lyrics by artistic director Tim Perrino and music by CCM’s Steve Goers. This “love story, a literary mystery, an ode to Christmases gone by,” is based on the dramatic life of Clement C. Moore, author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” – what we know as “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Thursday-Sunday, through Dec. 23.

‘A Christmas Carol’ – Playhouse in the Park

Through Dec. 31, Playhouse in the Park

The Playhouse is covering both ends of the holiday spectrum this year – sacred and profane. Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” is an iconic holiday experience that delivers top-notch performances year after year. Ages 5 and up.

Second City's 'Holidazed and Confused Revue' at Playhouse in the Park

Second City’s ‘Holidazed and Confused Revue’ at Playhouse in the Park

Second City’s ‘Holidazed & Confused Revue’ – Playhouse in the Park

Through Dec. 31, Playhouse in the Park

If you’re looking for something nearer the other pole of holiday delights, Second City is an equal-opportunity skewerer of all things holiday – Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, alike. For those who haven’t heard, this Chicago-based troupe has been the spawning ground for dozens of top-tier comedic talents over the past 50 years. If you’re up-to-here in holiday cheer, this is the show for you.

‘Darkest Night at Gnarly Stump’ – Know Theatre

Through Dec. 17,  Know Theatre

And yet another local world premiere holiday musical. Is there something in the water, or is the Queen City just overflowing with creativity? “Gnarly” is described as an Appalachian ghost story with music, in which story and reality become blurred. With songs by local Fringe favorite Paul Strickland. Not exactly a holiday tale, but it is the “darkest night,” after all!

Holiday Toy Trains at Behringer-Crawford Museum

Holiday Toy Trains at Behringer-Crawford Museum

Holiday displays plus

Holiday-related displays abound, including festive lights at Cincinnati Zoo and Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park in Hamilton, more toy trains at the Behringer-Crawford Museum in Devou Park and the downtown Public Library (Dec. 9-11), and the always nostalgia-inducing “Antique Christmas” at the Taft Museum of Art, where you can step back in time and immerse yourself in rooms filled with holiday decorations from 19th-century Cincinnati.

While much of the Cincinnati Museum Center is shut down during refurbishing, major exhibits continue, including the current, impressive display of more than 500 artifacts and archaeological discoveries about Vikings. Learn about daily life a thousand years ago. Explore Norse mythology. Walk the length of a 122-foot Viking long ship. There are still toy trains  – a newly acquired pre-WWII Lionel trains layout – and lots of other kids’ activities, plus exhibits exploring holidays from cultures around the world: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Chinese New Year and La Posada.

Visual Art

The visual art scene in Cincinnati continues to expand and improve. Among the big shows, the 21c Museum Hotel hosts an amazing photographic exhibit – “Shifting Perspectives” – through Jan. 2. The Cincinnati Art Museum’s gorgeous Van Gogh landscapes exhibit continues through Jan. 8. The Contemporary Arts Center has a fascinating collection of works by British artist Glenn Brown on display through Jan. 15, and three soul-stirring, lens-based shows continue at the Freedom Center until Jan. 23.

Keep in mind that 21c exhibits are viewable 24/7/365, so you can always pop in before a show or after a downtown dinner. And the Cincinnati Art Museum has expanded hours on Thursdays to 8 p.m. These, plus the CAC (open Wednesday-Friday evenings until 9 p.m.), are all free admission.

Several exhibits are opening in December, and they’re always a fun way to see and be seen. The new Gallery 708 opens at 708 Walnut St. on Dec. 1, featuring the work of 28 varied artists and artisans (see page 14). Marta Hewett Gallery offers new glass works by Stephen Powell, opening Friday, Dec. 2. Essex Studios in Walnut Hills hosts its Art Walks that Friday and Saturday (see page 8); the Weston Gallery in downtown’s Aronoff Center and The Carnegie in Covington both open new shows on Dec. 9.
Pendleton Art Center’s Holiday Market is 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Dec. 10. Miller Gallery in Hyde Park opens a new Tyler Shields show on Dec. 14. And Walk on Woodburn, Dec. 16 in East Walnut Hills, features an opening at Manifest Gallery, plus nearby shops, boutiques and several interesting drinking establishments to cap off your night. Cheers!

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