When I was a kid (back in the 1950s) a short opera with a Christmas theme was broadcast on TV for several Christmas Eves: Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors. It was the first television opera, an unusual holiday item, serious and uplifting without the usual treacle or commercialism that seep into Christmas entertainment today.
The premiere of the work about a crippled shepherd boy and his mother and their life-changing encounter with the Three Wise Men was conducted by Thomas Schippers, who served as the music director of the Cincinnati Symphony from 1970 until 1977. In 2012, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra began a holiday tradition of presenting the work for several evenings in a compelling co-production with Madcap Puppets. It’s become a popular family outing (it’s just 50 minutes long); tonight is the final performance at Xavier University’s Gallagher Center Theater.
Madcap performers bring to life the Wise Men as visually expressive, larger-than-life characters — approximately 10 feet tall. Four dancers from Pones Inc. add a merry element as Amahl (Eric Riedel, 13) dreams of their miraculous encounter — one that eventually restores his crippled leg. Maria Miller, studying voice at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music, sings the dramatic role of Amahl’s mother, and four other trained singers give voice to the Wise Men and their Page. Tom Merrill conducts the CCO, and the performance also features a choir of current and alumni members of XU’s Edgecliff Vocal Ensemble and Mason High School.
I attended the Thursday evening performance, a full house. There were lots of children with their parents, all thoroughly enjoying the show. It’s lovely addition to Cincinnati’s holiday offerings. The production, staged by Madcap’s Dylan Shelton, is entertaining and moving. Shelton moderated a brief Q&A after the performance that let kids ask questions about the puppets. Tickets: 513-723-1182, x102.
With Christmas landing on Sunday this year, theaters are dark for Saturday and Sunday. But things pick up again on Monday with a few more performances of A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse and Cinderella: After Ever After at Ensemble Theatre. The Playhouse’s second production, The Second City’s Holidazed and Confused Revue, has been extended to Jan. 7, and Cincinnati Shakespeare’s Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some!) continues through New Year’s Eve. OTR Improv has two more nights of The Naughty List (Dec. 26 and 27) in the Courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill.
If you prefer to stay home but want some theatrical entertainment, tune in to the rebroadcast of Hairspray Live! on NBC on Monday evening, 8-11 p.m. (It aired live on Dec. 7.) The ebullient performance features Kristin Chenoweth, Martin Short, Jennifer Hudson and Harvey Fierstein; a recording of the soundtrack was recently released by Masterworks Broadway/Epic Records.