Let it stream! Our 2020 holiday entertainment guide for Chicago, 35 choices in all, both live and on your screen

Doug George, Chicago Tribune
·12 min read

This we know: It will be a quiet Christmas this year. Empty stages, shuttered box offices, Handel’s “Messiah” even more do-it-yourself than normal. “The Nutcracker” sadly missing. A planned live performance of “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” in Milwaukee scrapped by rising COVID cases.

But it’s the holiday season, and we’ll make the best of it. The Tribune offers our usual guide to seasonal entertainment, albeit most of it online and streaming for 2020. There are a few live events too. And make no mistake, there’s still some gifts on this list.


“A Christmas Carol, An Audio Play”: The Goodman Theatre’s annual Chicago tradition is free this year as an audio streaming performance, with Larry Yando giving voice to Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge. Let’s begin: “Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that ...” Dec. 1-31, free at www.goodmantheatre.org.

“Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol”: A distinct take on the Dickens story from the Chicago theater company long expert at putting on video productions. Streaming Dec. 3-20; tickets $15-$100 at manualcinema.com or as part of “Two Scrooges” at www.writerstheatre.org.

“The Rip Nelson Holiday Quarantine Special”: Hard to describe Hell in a Handbag, but we’ll give it a whirl. This 2020 holiday world premiere from Handbag Productions, written by David Cerda, stars Ed Jones as American funnyman Rip Nelson, who has been hospitalized after an ill-advised gig on a Pride cruise. He must make it back to his holiday special before Ryan Seacrest takes over. The musical, directed by Stevie Love, will be filmed in a warehouse with a green screen and a set to allow for the safety of cast and crew. Streaming via Vimeo Dec. 4 to Jan. 9, 2021; tickets $25 at handbagproductions.org or stage773.com.

“Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins”: The annual holiday favorite by Strawdog Theatre Co. returns with a livestreamed performance. The family musical is based on the book by Eric Kimmel, adapted by Michael Dailey and directed by Spencer Ryan Diedrick. Will Hershel of Ostropool outsmart the goblins who haunt the old synagogue so that villagers can celebrate Hanukkah? Performances Dec. 5-20; tickets $25-$30 at www.strawdog.org.

“One-Man A Christmas Carol”: The Dickens holiday ghost story here is adapted by, and features, Michael Halberstam in a solo show directed by Stanton Long. Streaming Dec. 3 to Jan. 3, 2021; tickets $15-$50 at www.writerstheatre.org.

“That’s Weird, Grandma: House Par-Tay”: PlayMakers Laboratory celebrates the holidays with stories written by Chicago elementary school students, adapted and performed by PlayMakers actors and directed by Brandon Cloyd. Streaming Dec. 7-28; tickets $2-$4 at playmakerslab.org.

“Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas Wish — The Musical” is a holiday show that debuted last year at the Greenhouse Theater Center and tells the story of a rag doll named Eleanor, who lives in the North Pole and writes a letter to Santa wishing for a home of her own. Streaming via InPlayer Nov. 27 to Dec. 27; tickets $25-$85 at www.eleanorswish.com.

“A Christmas Carol”: The Dickens classic, adapted as a family-friendly 70-minute show by William J. Norris and directed by Amelia Barrett, as performed for the first time in 2004. Ebenezer Scrooge learns that change is always possible. For the 2020 holidays, the College of DuPage theater department production is being filmed and presented on Zoom. Streaming Nov. 27, then on demand through Jan. 3, 2021; tickets $16 at 630-942-4000 or AtTheMAC.org.

“The Steadfast Tin Soldier”: The new holiday classic by Lookingglass Theatre Co., written and directed by Mary Zimmerman, returns in a streamed 2020 production. Hans Christian Andersen’s story takes on new life in this show, presented with music but no spoken words, starring Kasey Foster (Ballerina) and Anthony Irons (Goblin), with Joe Dempsey (Nursemaid), John Gregorio (Rat) and Alex Stein (Tin Soldier). Online Dec. 1-27; tickets $25-$75 (opening night) at www.lookingglasstheatre.org.

“Burning Bluebeard”: The critically lauded holiday show returns in a recorded performance of the 2019 production at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, presented by The Ruffians and Porchlight Music Theatre. Written by Jay Torrence and directed by Halena Kays, the play is inspired by Chicago’s 1903 Iroquois Theatre Fire that claimed some 600 lives during a matinee performance of “Mr. Blue Beard” over the holiday season in 1903. It’s told by six soot-smeared clown performers who have returned from the ashes and want to re-perform their Christmas pantomime. Streaming Dec. 4 to Jan. 3, 2021; tickets $15-$50 at PorchlightMusicTheatre.org.

“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol”: Milwaukee Repertory Theater in Wisconsin had to cancel planned live performances of this solo holiday show told from the point of view of Ebenezer’s late partner, as devised years ago by Tom Mula for the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Instead, a free virtual version, starring Lee E. Ernst, with a soundscape by foley artist Dan Kazemi, is a 2020 approach to “the show must go on.” Streaming Dec. 1-24 with links available from www.MilwaukeeRep.com.

“Christmas Bingo: It’s a Ho-Ho-Holy Night”: The old chestnut by Vicki Quade (“Late Nite Catechism”) goes online this holiday, with a portion of the proceeds going to the retirement fund for the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago. The Nuns4Fun archives offering was taped in 2013 at the Royal George Theater, starring Quade. Streaming Nov. 27 to Dec. 27; tickets $20 at www.nuns4fun.com.

“Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas! A Die Hard Musical Parody”: Not all holiday fare is adapted from Dickens, after all. New York cop Bruce “Willis” McClane takes on German terrorists and our Yuletide expectations in this musical comedy by Yippee Productions LLC (consisting in part of Drew DeSantis of Drury Lane Theatre and Jim Jensen of Drury Lane and the Royal George). Viewers will be able to watch the show and interact live with the cast via YouTube’s chat function. On YouTube 7 p.m. Dec. 17; free at www.youtube.com/yippeethemusical and www.yippeethemusical.com.

“It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!”: Clarence, don’t let COVID stop this show. The annual tradition from American Blues Theater is back for 2020 as a Zoom broadcast, done live for every performance from the actors’ homes. If you haven’t seen a show in past holidays, Frank Capra’s film is adapted as a radio program with the cast members, directed by Gwendolyn Whiteside, inhabiting the roles from Bedford Falls as if telling the story to an old-time radio audience. Brandon Dalquist is George Bailey, Michael Mahler provides the tunes and jingles. Through Jan. 2; tickets $25-$75 at 773-654-3103 and AmericanBluesTheater.com.

“A Christmas Carol in the Dark” is by Theatre in the Dark, which in pre-pandemic times presented plays in a darkened theater with cast members speaking all around the audience. This livestreaming performance of Dickens takes much the same approach online, telling the story with a cast with Zoom cameras darkened. Directed and adapted by Mack Gordon. Streaming Dec. 10-24; tickets $25-$30 at www.theatreinthedark.com


Dance-Along Nutcracker: As the Chicago Cultural Center remains closed to the public, the original Dance-Along Nutcracker will be streamed for free by the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band. Streaming Dec. 12-13; DanceAlongNutcracker.org.

Ballet Chicago: Ballet Chicago will stream two versions of “The Nutcracker”: An archival production and a new version that combines archival footage and new video of current (socially distanced) dancers to be filmed at the Athenaeum Theatre, including George Balanchine’s Sugar Plum pas de deux. Streaming via Zoom Dec. 18-20; tickets $16-$51 at athenaeumtheatre.org/ballet-chicagos-nutcracker.

“Great Russian Nutcracker”: A prerecorded digital performance by the Moscow Ballet, presented by Talmi Entertainment. Streaming Dec. 19 to Jan. 3, 2021; tickets $24.99 at 630-942-4000 or atthemac.org.


“Home for the Holidays”: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra presents this holiday concert as part of its CSO Sessions, filmed in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center. Including Corelli’s Christmas Concerto and J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. Streaming via CSOtv Dec. 17 to Jan. 15; tickets $15 and up at cso.org.

“Holiday Sing-Along With the Symphony”: By the New Philharmonic at the McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn, a concert with lyric captions filled with holiday favorites, including “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” and a Hanukkah medley. Streaming Dec. 12, then on demand through Jan. 3, 2021; tickets $40 at 630-942-4000 or atthemac.org.

The Chris White Trio Tribute to “A Charlie Brown Christmas”: The Chris White Jazz Trio plays one of the season’s classic soundtracks — Vince Guaraldi’s 1965 “A Charlie Brown Christmas” — in a concert at Lincoln Park Zoo’s Cafe Brauer. Livestreamed 7 p.m. Dec. 13; tickets $15 at www.lpzoo.org.

“A Million Dollar Christmas: Presley, Perkins, Lewis & Cash”: A holiday show tapping into the former long-running Chicago-area favorite “Million Dollar Quartet,” here with a catalog of holiday tunes by rock ‘n’ roll legends Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Streaming Dec. 19, then on demand through Jan. 3, 2021; tickets $50 at 630-942-4000 or atthemac.org.

“Skylight Sings”: Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theatre presents the virtual concert “Skylight Sings: A Holiday Special From Our Home at the Cabot Theatre,” with Broadway show tunes and seasonal songs. Directed by Michael Unger. Streaming Dec. 11 to Jan. 10, 2021; tickets $20-$75 at www.skylightmusictheatre.org/holiday.

“New Philharmonic New Year’s Eve Concert”: Soloists Alisa Jordheim and Jesse Donner (from the New Philharmonic production of “Merry Widow”) join maestro Kirk Muspratt and the New Philharmonic at the McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn with a program featuring Strauss waltzes, classical works, musical surprises and of course, the traditional “Auld Lang Syne.” Streaming Dec. 31, then on demand through Jan. 3, 2021; tickets $50 at 630-942-4000 or atthemac.org.

“Celtic Family Christmas At Home”: The Auditorium Theatre announces a family-friendly performance with Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, sharing their music, culture and holiday traditions. Livestreamed via Homeplay Dec. 12, then available through Dec. 31; tickets $20 and more information at www.auditoriumtheatre.org.

“A Chanticleer Christmas: From Darkness to Light”: The acclaimed male chorus performs its annual Christmas concert, recorded in the San Francisco area and presented by the CSO. Streaming via CSOtv Dec. 6-27; tickets $15 and up at cso.org.


Zoo and park holiday lights: From Lincoln Park Zoo’s annual extravaganza to “Illumination” at the Morton Arboretum, the seasonal outdoor light displays are all still lit this year; read the full Tribune guide with ticket links and prices in chicagotribune.com/museums. Kohl Children’s Museum in Glenview has the new “Kohlights: A Mesmertastic Holiday Lightacular” Dec. 4 to Jan. 3; “Lightscape” at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe runs through Jan. 3; “Illumination” goes drive-through at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle through Jan. 3; Lincoln Park Zoo’s annual “ZooLights” runs through Jan. 3; “Holiday Magic” is Nov. 27 to Dec. 31 at the Brookfield Zoo.

Art on the Mart: A new season of projections on the Merchandise Mart begins. A work of video art inspired by the Joffrey Ballet’s holiday classic “The Nutcracker” will include images from its ballet set during the 1893 World’s Fair, as well as the Tchaikovsky score. Also in the 30-minute program, projections borrowing from the Art Institute’s exhibition “Monet and Chicago” accompanied by Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” as well as portraits from “Bisa Butler: Portraits.” Third, “Arts of Life” by City Circle Heart features the colorful, abstract work of studio artists with developmental disabilities. Program is shown nightly at 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. through Dec. 30 and best seen from the Riverwalk and Wacker Drive west of Wells Street; more at artonthemart.com/fall-2020.

Lakeview Holiday Stroll: The Chicago neighborhood of Lakeview will greet window shoppers along the Southport Corridor with carolers and holiday characters at select times daily. Plus there’s a scavenger hunt: Snowmen are hidden in participating stores’ window displays; find five to win a stuffed toy. Dec. 4-6 on Southport Avenue from Belmont to Irving Park Road; more information at www.lakeviewchamber.com/Holidays.

Macy’s State Street holiday windows: The holiday tradition continues this year at Macy’s, 111 N. State St. Indoors, at reduced capacity and conditions permitting, the Walnut Room is open for visiting the Great Tree; more at macysrestaurants.com/walnut-room.

Christkindlmarket: Another annual city tradition goes virtual this year, with the Daley Plaza holiday marketplace relocating to your screen. Also check out story times on Saturday afternoons. Through Dec. 31 at www.christkindlmarket.com.

CTA Holiday Train and Bus: No riders allowed this holiday, but the CTA is proceeding with its annual tradition of doing up a CTA train and city bus to greet Chicagoans. The schedule for the train is Green Line Nov. 27-28, Dec. 1; Brown Line Dec. 2-5; Orange Line Dec. 2-5; Red Line Dec. 8, 10 and 12; Purple Line Dec. 9, 11 and 12; Pink Line Dec. 15, 16 and 19; Blue Line Dec. 17-19; Yellow Line Dec. 21.

Virtual Dreidel Disco: As presented by the Jewish United Fund, this online event includes a party swag bag that will be delivered to all registered families prior to the event. With a DJ dance party and a “Drag Queen” story time, followed by a candle lighting on the fourth night of Chanukah. Streaming 4 p.m. Dec. 13; tickets $18 at juf.org/yfcelebrates.

“Andersonville at Home for the Holidays: Virtual Variety Show”: The Andersonville chamber of commerce will do its best to recreate the neighborhood’s usual caroling and festivities. Streaming 7 p.m. Dec. 13; more at andersonville.org/holiday-events.

“Virtual Holiday Stories Happy Hour” is by Chicago Detours, which in pre-pandemic times conducted walking and bus tours of Chicago landmarks and traditions. It now conducts tours via Zoom. This hour-long holiday special conducts a tour down State Street with local lore; holiday sights, such as the Macy’s windows, the Palmer House lobby, Art on theMart and more; interactive games; and participation for guests. Streaming via Zoom Nov. 27 to Dec. 28; tickets $20-$35 at www.chicagodetours.com.



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