Colorado’s Best Non-traditional Christmas Shows
By Steve Graham
National Public Radio’s Ira Glass once captured the striking uniformity of Christmas decorations and celebrations.
“It’s like hundreds of millions of people all set to work doing exactly the same art project,” he said in an introduction to a classic Christmas episode of “This American Life.”
The same could be said of Christmas entertainment. Every ballet company stages the Nutcracker, and theaters are almost required to end the year with “A Christmas Carol” production.
To be sure, we enjoy these shows. They are traditions for a reason. Also, there’s the comfort of the familiar and the joy of seeing a sublime performance of a well-known work.
However, there are plenty of alternative entertainment options out there. Here are a few favorite alternative Christmas shows in Colorado this year.
We’ll ease you away from traditional Christmas fare with a very different, but still entertaining and somewhat recognizable take on Tchaikovsky’s most famous ballet. On Tuesday, Dec. 11, Annie Booth will perform Duke Ellington’s “Nutcracker Suite” with the CU Concert Jazz Ensemble at Dazzle Jazz Club in downtown Denver. Booth is an acclaimed fixture on the local jazz scene. She is also performing a holiday house concert in Denver with her trio on Sunday, Dec. 16, and a pair of Charlie Brown Christmas music shows at Dazzle on Dec. 23 and 24.
Speaking of Charlie Brown Christmas music, famed pianist David Benoit was originally inspired to start playing music by the Vince Guaraldi tunes in the first Peanuts TV special. The show debuted in 1965 and is still broadcast every year. We all remember Charlie’s little tree and the whole gang dancing while Linus plays a jazzy tune. Benoit puts that jazzy tune and the rest of the soundtrack front and center with his touring tribute show, also featuring vocalist Sara Gazarek. They stop on Thursday, Dec. 20, at the Union Colony Civic Center in Greeley.
The aforementioned “This American Life” quote eventually leads into David Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries,” first aired on NPR in 1992. It has since become a holiday classic, but it will never become traditional, or family-friendly, Christmas fare. I mean, it opens with Sedaris admitting to getting hired as a department store elf despite “roaches and stems floating in” his drug-test urine sample, then leads up to Sedaris’ elf giving an over-the-top scared straight speech to an innocent child waiting to visit Santa. “It’s going to be so dark and cold where you are that you’re going to wish you never heard the name Santa.” It’s funny and it’s about an elf, but “Elf” it’s not. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts is staging the snarky show through Dec. 24.
Santa’s Big Red Sack
Someone saw David Sedaris’ skewering of department store Santa displays and realized plenty of other Christmas fare was ripe for mockery. So they wrote “Santa’s Big Red Sack,” a sketch comedy collection billed as “The holiday show you shouldn’t take your kids to.” It takes on gift exchanges, the Grinch, reindeer, carols and much more. Catch the 10th and final season of the show through Dec. 24 at the Avenue Theater in Denver.
If you missed this year’s Mannheim Steamroller show or you want a different spin (pun intended) on rock-tinged neo-classical music, Colorado’s own Spinphony is releasing its first holiday album this year. Get a signed copy at the album release show on Dec. 19 at the Clocktower Cabaret. The quartet plays creative mashups of pop songs and Christmas carols, with some classical music thrown into the mix.