Hosting out-of-town guests, longing for a different kind of date night, or simply wanting to peel the kids away from screens large and small? We have the ticket for you! Options from highbrow to lowbrow – so you don’t have to search, well, high and low.
Cincinnati Zoo’s 35th PNC Festival of Lights (through Jan. 1) provides a wonderful opportunity to get your whole family into the holiday spirit, with more lights (3 million) than you could count by next Christmas, entertainment (such as Madcap Puppets, rides on the BB&T Toyland Express), and festive food and drink, all while surrounded by the natural beauty of the zoo and its inhabitants. Few things beat the radiance of this place on a crisp, late fall evening.
Cincinnati Museum Center continues to impress by generating fresh experiences while managing the massive renovation in progress for almost another year. “Holiday Junction featuring Brickopolis” (through Jan. 2) is a 12,000-square-foot winter wonderland with fan favorites like Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends and the Super-O interactive layout trains, a train kids can ride, and “Brickopolis,” 1,800 square feet of custom LEGO landscapes.
Taft Museum of Art again offers its signature view into the decorated beauty of 19th-century homes in Cincinnati – “Antique Christmas” (through Jan. 7). Expose your family to the warmth and simplicity of times past, when ornaments, decorations and toys were handmade and people took the time to savor this special season.
Behringer-Crawford Museum’s “Holiday Toy Trains” (through Jan. 14) rolls again with 250 feet of track and more than 30 guest-activated displays, plus “Wahoo’s Winter Wonderland,” an animated, whimsical, winter landscape based on the children’s book “The Holiday Adventures of Wiley Wahoo & Me!” by Kenton Hills author Diana Grady.
Krohn Conservatory creates its holiday experience through immersion in your favorite holiday plants: poinsettias, evergreens, cyclamen, amaryllis and more. And the “Cincinnati Choo Choo,” a train display and historical buildings created by Applied Imagination, will surround you with the sights and sounds of trains overhead and trolleys at your feet. Numerous special events also dot the December calendar.
Cincinnati Ballet’s latest production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” (Dec. 14-24) has been a huge success, thanks to its sumptuous beauty and playful choreography by artistic director Victoria Morgan. This remains an iconic tradition of the Queen City – a must-see if you haven’t, and worthwhile even if you have, especially now in the renovated Music Hall.
If you are itching for a different approach, De La Dance Company presents a split offering (Nov. 24-Dec. 3) of traditional “Nutcracker” choreography and dance set to Duke Ellington’s jazzy take on Tchaikovsky – his infectious “Nutcracker Suite.” Performances are in the new De La Dance facility in Kennedy Heights.
The Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati has been at the pinnacle of choral singing in the Queen City for nearly four decades. Emeritus music director Earl Rivers returns to lead “A Candlelit Christmas” (Dec. 16-17), two concerts spanning the centuries, from sacred to, well, even a little silly. VAE is ensconced in its new concert home – the lovingly restored and upgraded Memorial Hall.
Earl Rivers is the busiest man in Cincinnati this December, as he also produces and helps lead the extravagant “Feast of Carols” (Dec. 2-3) at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, featuring each student ensemble and guest high school choirs. It’s quite the tour de force. He also leads the stellar Knox Presbyterian Church Choir in an intriguing program of Arvo Pärt, Respighi and Bach (Dec. 10).
VAE is not the only professional choir in Cincinnati. Christopher Eanes’ excellent Collegium Cincinnati shares singers with VAE, CCM and beyond, and its core instrumentalists are from the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. This choral/orchestral organization shares performances of Handel’s beloved “Messiah” (Dec. 9 in West Chester, Dec. 10 at Christ Church Cathedral). Just 16 singers – a true chamber “Messiah” – unlike what we’ve heard here before.
Cincinnati Camerata, in the final performances conducted by music director Brett Scott, explores haunting Eastern European musical expressions of the Virgin Mary, in “Mary Echoes” (Dec. 9 in Hyde Park; Dec. 10 in Westwood) – Gorecki, Pärt, Rachmaninoff, Moody, Tavener and others.
No Promises Vocal Band is a relatively new male a cappella group led by Cincinnatian Joshua Steele. As someone who managed his own a cappella group for seven years, I can tell you these guys, employing intricate jazz and pop harmonies, are really good. Joined by a special guest, former Maisonette managing partner Nat Comisar singing bass, they present holiday performances at five area venues (Dec. 7-21).
“98° at Christmas” (Dec. 15) marks the return of our own homegrown boy band, and its new recording, “Let it Snow.” SCPA grads Nick Lachey, Drew Lachey, Justin Jeffre and Jeff Timmons perform a wide range of seasonal pop hits with their signature tight harmonies and R&B stylings.
Cincinnati Pops and John Morris Russell encore their fun, classic, showbiz-style “Holiday Pops” for four performances (Dec. 8-10). Always high-energy and fun, just like JMR. Add in vocalist Denzal Sinclaire, the Classical Roots Choir and the May Festival Chorus, and you now have a holiday extravaganza.
Cincinnati Contemporary Jazz Orchestra takes on the challenge of Tchaikovsky (Dec. 14), throwing down some group members’ big band arrangements of favorite “Nutcracker” tunes. Vocalist Adia Dobbins tags along to add some vocal vibrancy to The Redmoor.
Over the Rhine, our own adored alt-folkies, move their annual show to Memorial Hall. More shows (three). More intimacy (500 seats). A great Cincinnati holiday tradition gets even better!
Steve Schmidt has been dragging his Hammond B3 up from the basement of The Comet in Northside for years now. Crowds have grown and nights have increased to three (Dec. 20-22). And it’s now known as the “Christmas Schmidtacular.” Classic. Arrive way early or way late. In between, it will be standing-room-only. Two sets, starting “around about” 8:30 p.m. It’s jazz, after all.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company offers some non-holiday family fare, an adaptation of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (through Dec. 9) by one-time Cincinnati literary guest, Mark Twain. No story breathes Americana like this tale, featuring Tom, Huck Finn, Becky Thatcher, et al. Wackiness follows with “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some),” 90 minutes of hilarity – an irreverent lampooning of every Christmas theatrical icon you can think of…and more (Dec. 21-31). Santa-believers should stay home, however. Sorry!
It would simply not be Christmas in Cincinnati without Playhouse in the Park’s “A Christmas Carol,” by another one-time visitor Charles Dickens. This production continues to be excellent. It is truly a rite of passage for area families, and rightly so.
Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati has a tradition of yuletide musicals in the style – loosely – of British pantomimes, comical send-ups of fairy tales and the like. “The Dancing Princesses” (Nov. 29-Dec. 30) is another new show from the creative team of Joseph McDonough and David Kisor (“Cinderella”), based on the 1812 Brothers Grimm tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Perfect for the whole family.
Know Theatre typically treads the alternative track, and this “holiday” offering is no exception. Based on the well-known novel by Neil Gaiman, “Neverwhere” (Nov. 25-Dec. 17) is a dark urban fantasy that explores London Below – “a world of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels that exists in a labyrinth beneath our feet.” No mention of Santa that I’m aware of, so here’s another chance for date night!