For people who pay attention to the performing arts, one of the most obvious harbingers of the Christmas season is the fare offered at theaters, concert halls and arenas. Almost every show seems to have some type of holiday theme.
A lot of it is formulaic and designed to be inoffensive.
But the best Christmas-season entertainment is sublime, and this year there more than enough wonderful shows in the Bradenton area to keep you and your family engaged, enlightened and entertained.
Here's look at some of the most promising holiday-oriented performances coming up around Bradenton.
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"Amahl and the Night Visitors": Gian Carlo Menotti's opera about a boy, the three wise men and a Christmas miracle used to be a television holiday tradition. It's a lovely opera, sung in English and appropriate for all ages. Your kids may pretend to hate it, but they'll remember it fondly when they're older. Through Dec. 21, Bradenton Kiwianis Studio Theatre at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. Call 941-748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.
"Black Nativity": The great Langston Hughes wrote this celebration of the Nativity story, told through Hughes' poetry and gospel, blues, spiritual and Christmas music. It's become a holiday tradition in the past 53 years. It's a moving show for people of any age or ethnicity, and there's every reason to think that the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe will give it a beautiful treatment. Through Dec. 21, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota. Show times: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 941-366-1505 or go to wbttsrq.org.
"A Christmas Story": The perfect holiday show for people who find most holiday shows overly sentimental. This musical version of the hit movie (based on a novel by Jean Shepherd) revels in nostalgia, tinged with a healthy dollop of sardonic humor. It's set in the 1940s, but even contemporary kids ought to be able to relate. Through Dec. 21, The Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Call 941-365-2494 or go to theplayers.org.
"Meet Me in St. Louis": Only the last few scenes of this musical are overtly Christmas-related, but this is the show that gave us the classic "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and the whole show has a wholesome, traditional, family feeling that make it perfect for the season. The Manatee Players production has some gorgeous performances. Through Dec. 21, Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. Call 941-748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra with Brian Stokes Mitchell: One of the finest voices of Broadway joins forces with a great orchestra in a concert full of seasonal songs. The focus is on songs from the orchestra's 2012 album "Home for the Holidays" which includes traditional carols, sacred songs and pop numbers. 8 p.m. Dec.11, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Call: 941-953-3368 or go to vanwezel.org.
"Santaland Diaries": If the gentle poke at seasonal sentimentality offered by "A Christmas Story" isn't enough for
you, check out the full-blown cynicism of this show. It's become a tradition for American Stage in St. Petersburg to stage David Sedaris' hilarious one-person show, featuring an nearly perfect performance by Brian Shea, one of Florida's best actors. Do not bring the little ones. Dec. 22-28, American Stage, 163 Third St. N., St Petersburg. Call 727-823-7529 or go to americanstage.org.
"The Colors of Christmas": The enduringly popular Christmas concert returns, with Peabo Bryson, who's best known for hits from Disney movie musicals, joined this time around by Jennifer Holliday, Taylor Dayne and Ruben Studdard. Dec. 10 Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Call 941-953-3368 or go to vanwezel.org.
"Jingle All the Way": The Sarasota Orchestra's holiday concert mixes popular and classical music. Highlights include Rossini's "Fantastic Toyshop," "The Christmas Song," "The Skaters Waltz," "Festive Sounds of Hanukkah" and "White Christmas." Dec. 10-12, Holley Hall at the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center, 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Call 941-953-4252 or go to sarasotaorchestra.org.
"Christmas Delight": Magic of Manatee is the local chapter of the Sweet Adelines, and they sing gorgeous four-part a capella harmonies. They have dozens of members and their shows consist of full-chorus numbers and songs from smaller groups. It's the kind of joyful and uplifting music most of us seek out this time of year. For this show, they're joined by musicians from the Bayshore High Music Department. 7 p.m. Dec. 12, Bayshore High School Auditorium, 5401 34th St. W., Bradenton. Call 941-722-9665 or go to magicofmanatee.com.
"A Tribute to the King": Dwight Icenhower is one of the best Elvis tribute artists around. He's won prestigious championships for Elvis impersonators in Las Vegas and Memphis and he's a hit with audiences all around the country. His Christmas show will no doubt draw heavily from "Elvis Christmas," which Rolling Stone ranked as the second-greatest Christmas album of all time. Icenhower's backed by the Blue Suede Review Band. 2 p.m. Dec. 12-13, Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. Call 941-748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.
"Island Holidays": The Anna Maria Island Concert Chorus & Orchestra's annual holiday concert includes Saint-Saëns' "Oratorio de Noël," holiday music favorites with an audience sing-a-long, the Christmas portion of Handel's Christmas portion of "Messiah," and Handel's "Concerto for Harp." 2 p.m. Dec. 14, CrossPointe Fellowship Church, 8605 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Call 941-896-3899 or go to www.amicco.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.