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Your guide to great holiday music and theater


The holiday music and theater season is upon us. That means ballet and burlesque, tuba orchestras and klezmer bands, Christmas carols and Tchaikovsky three different ways. Unwrap some arts with help from our guide to all the best stuff this season.

“The Nutcracker,” Nov. 25 – Dec. 31, Boston Opera House

What begins in the cozy drawing room of the Silberhaus family evolves into a fever dream of Mouse Kings, Sugar Plum Fairies and magical moments. An honored holiday tradition fit for families of all kinds, the Boston Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is also high art. Tchaikovsky’s timeless score is an absolute marvel. Artistic director Mikko Nissinen’s vision of the classical ballet is warm, nuanced, dramatic and delightful. Let this be your gateway into the art form (follow up with “Don Quixote,” March 16–26).

“Messiah,” Nov. 25 – 27, Symphony Hall

Since Handel composed “Messiah” in 1741, the oratorio has played to millions. Maybe a million in Boston alone. Handel and Haydn Society have performed the masterpiece for 168 consecutive years. Join in for No. 169.

“‘Twas the Night Before,” Nov. 25 – Dec. 11, Wang Theater

Cirque du Soleil’s vision of the classic poem follows teenaged Isabella through a fantastical journey to reunite with her family. Jaded by holiday hype, Isabella’s mood is transformed as she travels through a winter wonderland full of Cirque’s trademark mix of circus arts and theater – acrobats and reindeer, snowstorms and spectacle.

Tuba Christmas, Nov. 27, Downtown Crossing

A hundred tuba players gather in the heart of Boston to play holiday favorites for free. A wild and unlikely delight for the ears, the event will also delight the eyes – plenty of horn players deck their instruments like Christmas trees.

Ezekiel’s Wheels Klezmer Band, Nov. 30, BackRoom at The Boston Synagogue

Klezmer is dance music. And Boston’s own Ezekiel’s Wheels does the music with nuance and exuberance, finding intersections between folk, jazz and classical. This dance party is part of the Boston Festival of New Jewish Music, a free monthly concert series.

“A Christmas Carol,” Dec. 1 – 23, North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly

Since its 1989 debut, well over a million people have seen this NSMT staple. Why? To hear songs such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” see special effects that rival a Hollywood blockbuster and take in the magic of David Coffee – who returns as Scrooge for his 28th holiday season.

The Holiday Pops, Dec. 1 – 24, various locations

The Pops play plenty of Symphony Hall dates this December, but fans across New England can catch conductor Keith Lockhart and friends as they travel from state to state. The performances will feature sing-alongs, seasonal favorites, and newer treats such as “Noche de Posadas (The Night of Las Posadas)” with text and projected images from Tomie dePaola’s classic children’s book.

“Black Nativity,” Dec. 2 – 18, Emerson Paramount Mainstage

The legendary poet Langston Hughes’ words combine with dancers, singers and musicians to tell the Gospel of St. Luke. “Black Nativity” is a work with a long local legacy and dynamic cast  – more than 50 join to put on this 52nd season.

“The Slutcracker,” Dec. 2 – 31, Somerville Theatre

Roll over Tchaikovsky and tell Santa the news: This John Waters-approved bawdy adaptation follows the adventures of a homemaker through a weirdo wonderland. Fun, festive, raunchy, not for kids.

“A Christmas Celtic Sojourn,” Dec. 10 – Jan. 2, various locations and online

Brian O’Donovan’s Celtic spectacular celebrates its 20th year. Drawing on Celtic, Pagan, and Christian traditions to delve into the age old artistic traditions of December. Expect a homey mix of music, song and story-telling.

“Hanukkah Through the Senses,” Dec. 11, The Mosesian Center for the Arts, Watertown

Let all five of your senses experience Hanukkah. Klezmer music for your ears, chocolate gelt on your tongue, dancers for your eyes. All this and more during this family-friendly stage performance and night of interactive arts and crafts.

The Midwinter Revels, Dec. 16 – 28, Sanders Theatre, Cambridge

The 52nd annual Midwinter Revels production transports the audience to Ellis Island in the 1920s. On Christmas Eve, families from Ireland, Russia, and Germany share their traditions with each other and a group of Mexican-born nurses taking care of the new immigrants. Christian and Jewish songs, stories and dance fill a Dec. 24 unlike any other.

“Urban Nutcracker,” Dec 17 – 23, Shubert Theatre

Anthony Williams’ annual holiday production puts a spin on the traditional ballet with Duke Ellington’s reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s score powering a range of dance forms. “We have Tchaikovsky, we have Duke Ellington, we have classical ballet, hip hop, flamenco, swing dance, tap,” Williams told the Herald of his creation.


The Boston Ballet rehearses a performance of "The Nutcracker." (Photo Liza Voll)
The Boston Ballet rehearses a performance of “The Nutcracker.” (Photo Liza Voll)


Santa chats with Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart. (Photo Stu Rosner)
Santa chats with Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart. (Photo Stu Rosner)


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