A guide to the best on Bradenton-area stages for the holidays

Holiday offerings on area stages

December 1, 2013 

With all the talk lately about Black Friday an Black Friday Eve (the Thursday formerly known as Thanksgiving), it feels like the holiday season is all about retail.

It's a big deal in the performing arts world too, as companies and venues strive to attract people who have some extra days off, and are looking for ways to entertain visiting relatives of different generations and different tastes.

There's a lot of tripe in theaters this time of year, because theaters have found that even a bad Christmas show can fare better than a good non-holiday show. But there's plenty of stuff worth seeing too. You have to be selective if you're looking for edifying entertainment instead of passable time-killers.

Here are a few recommendations.

• "Santaland Diaries" at American Stage has become a Christmas tradition in its own right. The great Brian Shea is unfailingly hilarious in David Sedaris' one-person show. It's all about a Christmas when Sedaris, before his literary fame, had to take a job as an elf at Macy's. It's bitter and wonderful. Do not miss it, but do not take the kids. Dec. 15-29. www.americanstage.org, 727-823-7529.

• "The Nutcracker" gets a bad rap among dance aficionados, but that's mostly because there are so many bad versions of the ballet that get trotted out every year. Beyond a doubt the best one to see is Balanchine's glorious version. Only two companies in the country do it, and one is Miami City Ballet. Catch it if you're down that way, but is you're staying in town, catch the Sarasota Ballet's "John Ringling's Circus Nutcracker." Great scenery and costumes, a ballet company that's on the rise, and great music by the dependable Sarasota Orchestra. Dec. 10-21 at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. 941-953-3368, www.vanwezel.org.

• "Irving Berlin's White Christmas" isn't a triumphant piece of

musical theater, but it's packed with nearly two dozen Berlin songs, including "Sisters," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," "Happy Holiday" and the title song. It's based on the 1954 film and has a book by the great David Ives. Players Theatre of Sarasota, Dec. 5-22. 941-365-2494, www.theplayers.org.

• Chris Isaak's going around the country with what he's calling a "Holiday Tour." Apparently he's doing selection of "holiday favorites," but he's concentrating on songs from his phenomenal "Beyond the Sun" album that pays tribute to the Sun Records studio and artists from the 1950s. So maybe this isn't so much a pure holiday show, but he's someone who can pull off traditional holiday songs and then do a mean version of a Carl Perkins rocker, so it should be a good family show. Dec. 22, Mahaffey Theatre. 727-892-5716, www.themahaffey.com.

• "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" sounds like the title of the most saccharine holiday play ever, but it can be a lot of fun. (The book on which it is based is called "The Worst Kids in the World" in Australia, which is a much more promising title.) It's about six nasty kids who end up in church Christmas play. It's traditional but has just a bit of an edge, so it's good for the whole family. It's also a great way to check out the new studio theater at the Manatee Performing Arts Center if you haven't already. Dec. 5-22. 941-748-5875, www.manateeplayers.com,

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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