After 174 years, "A Christmas Carol" continues to enthrall. This story of redemption and love unlocks the tear ducts every December. Even if you've seen it before. Even if you can recite entire passages by heart.
Why are we still emotionally sucker-punched by the denouement?
"The magic in it," says Art Rotch, creative director for Perseverance Theatre, which will bring its production to Anchorage for the fourth year in a row.
Theater is a kind of ritual, he says, and the holiday season increases our desire for ritual. But "A Christmas Carol" isn't just an annual tradition. It's about our collective search for meaning.
"As the holiday has become more and more commercialized, this story reminds us what it's really about," Rotch says.
Not every annual tradition is fraught with deeper truths. Sometimes they're just fun, like the tree-lighting in Town Square or the obligatory photo with Santa. Most local arts activities help people develop their own holiday traditions, with a heavy emphasis on Christmas concerts and "The Nutcracker."
But a few productions break the mold, such as the concert by acclaimed a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock, a uniquely Alaska take on "The Nutcracker" and a poignant drama based on the true story of World War I holiday cease-fires.
That last — "Our Friends, the Enemy" – was adapted by Alaska writer Codie Costello from a one-man show by Alex Gwyther. Now it's a three-person drama about the 1914 "Christmas truce," when British and German soldiers temporarily laid down their weapons to celebrate together.
"It's very much a story of hope … and also a way to think about giving," says Costello, who will direct the piece for Cyrano's Theatre Company.
"These men took a risk and they gave themselves to each other. They shared stories, played games, sang songs. It's a reminder that we're all human, and we're all connected."
While "Our Friends" is aimed at audiences of about 13 and up, due to its mature subject matter, most of the other holiday entertainments in town are family friendly. Bring your kids, bring your grandkids or bring yourself to one or more of the following productions, either to relive specific elements of your own past or to experience a sense of wonder and delight that transcends age.
(And if you're attending "A Christmas Carol," don't forget the tissues.)
"A Christmas Carol": Perseverance Theatre brings the timeless holiday tale back to Anchorage once again. The play opens with a pay-what-you-can preview on Thursday, Dec. 14, and continues through Friday, Dec. 29 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays, with an additional show at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 23. Tickets are $37 and $44, available at CenterTix. (907-263-2787)
"A Christmas Carol": This Valley Performing Arts production does something different with the classic holiday tale by introducing author Charles Dickens as narrator, stagehand and actor. This is based on the author's public readings, which were more like performances than straight recitations. Show times are 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 17 at VPA, 251 W. Swanson, Wasilla. Tickets are $19, $17 for seniors and students. (907-373-0195)
"Let Nothing You Dismay": In this comic farce by Topher Payne ("Perfect Arrangement"), a young couple waiting for their child to be born on Christmas Eve becomes overwhelmed by a stream of unexpected — and uninvited — relatives and friends. The show continues through Dec. 17 at Anchorage Community Theatre, 1133 E. 70th Ave. Show times are 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $17, $15 for seniors, military personnel and students, and $13 for students. (907-344-4713)
"Our Friends, the Enemy": This drama is based on the true story of the 1914 Christmas Truce, when German and British soldiers temporarily stopped shooting in order to celebrate the holiday together. The show continues through Dec. 24 at Cyrano's, 3800 DeBarr Rd. Show times are 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, except for 3 p.m. Dec. 24. Tickets are $25, with a $2 discount for seniors, active duty military members and students, available at CenterTix. (907-263-2787)
"Christmas Knight": TBA Theatre presents this medieval fantasy about a knight who stages a Yule feast with troubadours to tell Christmas tales. The stories come to life in the telling. The play will be presented through Dec. 17 at Grant Hall on the Alaska Pacific University campus. Show times are 7 and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $11, $9 for seniors, military personnel and students, at $6 for children 12 and under. (907-677-7529)
"Christmas In Spenard": It ain't exactly art, but it's a holiday tradition just the same. Mr. Whitekeys and company present a song-and-dance show full of silly slides, sleazy costumes and topics that may not be suitable for work (note: this will be the last Whitekeys production until December 2018, as he's taking a year off). Show times are 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays until Dec. 21 at the Hard Rock Cafe, 415 E St. Tickets are $19 and $23, available at CenterTix. (907-263-2787)
Dance and acrobatics
"The Nutcracker": Anchorage Ballet presents the holiday fairy tale about a girl who receives an enchanted gift at Christmas and is swept away to a magic world. Performances take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $33.50 to $43.75, available at CenterTix. (907-263-2787)
"The Alaskan Nutcracker": This production from Sonja's Studio of Dance has the same basic "Nutcracker" story but with a uniquely Alaska feel: auroral colors, a Waltz of the Fireweed, a dog sled, an Uncle Moose Jaw instead of Uncle Drosselmeyer and more. Show times are 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Glenn Massay Theater, 8295 College Dr., Palmer. Tickets are $15, $10 for students. (907-746-9300)
Cirque De Chanukah: This year's event will feature a stunt basketball and unicycle show by Champions Forever in their Alaska debut. There will also be a giant ice menorah kindling ceremony, Israeli falafel stand (and latkes, doughnuts and other treats) and activities for the family: a Chanukah chocolate gelt factory, a station to build your own fidget dreidel and an electric LED menorah wiring workshop. $10 for adults, $5 for children and students. Tickets at lubavitchjewishcenter.org/holidays or at the door. 5-8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at the Egan Convention Center.
Baby Loves Disco: Holiday Pajama Jam
Why shouldn't kids have their own dance party? DJ Spencer Lee has teamed up with Williwaw for another holiday-themed family friendly dance party. The jam is recommended for kids 10 and under and will feature a mix of '70s, '80s and '90s music as well as today's hits. DJs Spencer Lee and Victamore will prepare the soundtrack; all you need to do is get in your pajamas and dancing shoes. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. $12.50/each for family four-pack, $15 individual; free for non-walking babies. 11 a,m.-1 p.m. Sunday, Bear Tooth Theatrepub, 1230 W. 27th Ave. (beartooththeatre.net)
Since 1995, dozens of tubas, baritones and other big brass instruments – some of them decked out for the holidays – have serenaded Alaska audiences for a free Christmas concert. This year, TubaChristmas will be at 12 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Lorene Harrison Lobby, Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Free.
Christmas with the Alaska Chamber Singers: A mix of secular and sacred music plus a reading of "A Child's Christmas in Wales," with carols that support different parts of the Dylan Thomas poem. Performances take place at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 8 and 9, at First Congregational Church, 2610 E. Northern Lights Blvd., and at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10 at St. Andrew Church, 16300 Domain Ln., Eagle River. Tickets are $35, with a $5 discount for seniors, military personnel and students, available at the door and at CenterTix. (907-263-2787)
9th Army 'Arctic Warrior' Band: The U.S. Army band from Elmendorf-Richardson will perform two free "Sounds of the Season" holiday concerts for the Eagle River and Anchorage communities. Doors open for both concerts at 6:15 p.m., and seating at the family friendly events will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Friday at Community Covenant Church at 16123 Artillery Road in Eagle River and 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. in the Atwood Concert Hall at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts in Anchorage. Free.
Family Holiday Pops: The Anchorage Concert Chorus mixes songs old and new, from traditional carols and hymns to selections from the popular music library (including but not limited to Simon and Garfunkel, Lennon and McCartney and Andy Williams). "A Visit From St. Nicholas" will be read, and after the concert, kids can visit with old St. Nick and his wife in the lobby. Show time is 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $32.50 to $48, available at CenterTix. (907-263-2787)
Sweet Honey in the Rock: The all-female, African-American a cappella ensemble presents "Celebrating the Holydays," a collection of hymns and spiritual songs from a variety of cultures. The women perform a mix of blues, gospel, reggae and jazz in four-part harmony. The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $32.50 to $66, available at CenterTix. (907-263-2787)
Christmas with the Nelsons: Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, sons of Ricky Nelson, promise a blend of Everly Brothers-style harmonies and Smothers Brothers-style comedy for their Christmas program. Tickets $25-$60. 7-10 p.m. Thursday, and Friday, Dec. 21-22, at The Center (firstname.lastname@example.org; 4855 Arctic Blvd.)
Mat-Su Concert Band Holiday Concert: There will be many holiday favorites, including Shostakovich's Festive Overture Op. 96. Expect a singalong of favorite Christmas carols too. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at the Glenn Massay Theater, 8295 E. College Dr., Palmer. Tickets are $15, $7 students, free to children 5 and under. (907-360-0628)
Anchorage Museum Holiday Concert: It's "Wells Fargo Free Day" on Sunday, Dec. 17, so you don't have to pay to get in. From 1-4 p.m. you'll hear seasonal sounds from the Alaska Children's Choir, the Anchorage Concert Chorus and the Anchorage Mandolin Orchestra. From 2-4:30 p.m., visiting artist Sebastian Masuda, who did the giant Hello Kitty in the current "Art of Fandom" exhibit, will help people make art pieces and letters to put into a time capsule. And if your kids need a break, head to the area under the stairs to watch holiday programs like "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "The Muppet Christmas Carol."
Donna Freedman, a former Anchorage Daily News reporter and reviewer, blogs about money and midlife at DonnaFreedman.com.