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South Sound holiday theater productions

What's on stage this holiday season

From left, Lydia Hedman as Zuzu, Dan Lysne as George and Kirsten Deane as Mary in Tacoma Little Theatre's "It's a Wonderful Life." Photo courtesy of Tacoma Little Theatre

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The "War on Christmas" decried by Sarah Palin and Bill O'Reilly isn't evident in South Sound theater, which is producing a rich variety of appropriately jolly and family-friendly shows for the holiday season. Weekly Volcano theater critics Joann Varnell and Christian Carvajal chime in with their thoughts on the productions below.

It's a Wonderful Life

Not many (IF any) audience members will show up to Tacoma Little Theatre without having seen the classic Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore version directed by Frank Capra. It's practically mandatory holiday viewing and is designed to tug on heartstrings and fill the audience with holiday cheer. There isn't much different than the film version expect the chronology of how the story unfolds. Clarence and his superior act as narrators to cover information that isn't shown as easily without film making techniques. Read Joann Varnell's full review of It's a Wonderful Life in the Music & Culture section.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 22, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma, $15-$22, 253.272.2281


Oh, look, it's Annie! Yes, it's "that little chatterbox, the one with the pretty auburn locks," and her little dog, too. We know this show back and forth. So do you: twice on Saturday afternoon, a TAcoma Musical Playhouse patron accidentally blurted the next line. But as long as there are adorable faux-orphans with ticket-buying grandparents who want nothing more than to grin at their progeny through bucket-sloshing rounds of "Hard Knock Life," there'll be productions of this heartwarming musical. The question is: how good is TMP's incarnation?

The answer: quite merry. I was impressed by Bruce Haasl's scenic design, which allows for smooth transitions between settings all over the Big Apple. I've always admired Haasl's sets for the mortally wounded Capital Playhouse, and now it's clear he's a fine fit for TMP. The latter company struggled for years with muddy acoustics, but aside from a few saggy brass notes early on, Jeffrey Stvrtecky's orchestra is in impeccable form here. It raises the bar for TMP's next show, the '60s-themed Shout! The Mod Musical. Read Christian Carvajal's full review of Annie in the Music & Culture section.

ANNIE, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, through Dec. 22, Tacoma Playhouse, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, $20-$29, 253.565.6867

Lyle the Crocodile

The play is by Kevin King and based on the books The House on East 88th Street and Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernard Waber. Set in New York City, about 60 years ago, Lyle the Crocodile is a "fun-for-the-whole-family musical: (with) jumping rope, ice skating, a parade, a city snowfall, holiday shopping, brave rescues, a cat, crocodiles, cookies. ..." Lyle, while the most personable and friendly crocodile around, must fight against stereotypes and preconceptions about his intentions based on being a crocodile. The plot (and acting) is so entertaining, the moral, "I didn't mean to be a grump, I just didn't trust someone who was different," isn't predictable but just presents itself effortlessly.

Quite possible the loudest laughter was from the adults in the audience but the kids were clearly entertained as well. All the actors were good but the standouts were Eric Crawford (Hector P. Valenti), Kate Ayers (Lyle), Mandy Ryle (Joshua), Amanda Stevens (Ms. Nitpicker) and Ted Ryle (Mr. Grumps). They brought just the right touch of believability while creating characters that were unique and fun. Read Joann Varnell's full review of Lyle the Crocodile in the Music & Culture section.

LYLE THE CROCODILE, 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, also 4:30 p.m. Dec. 14 and 21, through Dec. 22, Olympia Family Theater, Minnaert Center for the Arts, South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Road SW, Olympia, $10-$16, 360.753.8586

The Stardust Christmas Blizzard

As show director and company artistic manager Linda Whitney conceded in her curtain speech, the recession has bludgeoned the arts business. I'm not sure Harlequin is thrilled with doing Stardust each November, either, but the show must go on. Save smartsy plays for spring, when attention spans are longer and subscriber cash replenishes the coffers. In the meantime, here's Christian Doyle doing Frank Sinatra and a beat poet. Here's Amy Shephard in a clown suit and roller skates, like ya do. Maggie Lofquist has a lovely alto singing voice, which sounds great with Shephard's. Mark Alford pulls off a fabulous Elvis but overacts manically throughout the show. Company newbie Robert Humes is nervous yet perfect for "Chances Are." He plays a continuation of that time-honored entertainment trope, the Magical African-American. (See The Matrix, Bruce Almighty, and every Stephen King novel.) The music's executed with polish and conviction. Note: showtimes include a Christmas Eve matinée at 2 p.m. and a New Year's Eve closer at 7 p.m. Read Christian Carvajal's full review of The Stardust Christmas Blizzard in the Music & Culture section.

THE STARDUST CHRISTMAS BLIZZARD, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 31, Harlequin Productions, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, $25-$38, 360.786.0151

The Chronicles of Narnia

For those just joining us, I'm a C. S. Lewis hater. In the face of all opposition, I remain resolute in my conviction that Lewis's fantasies were incoherent and his nonfiction only slightly more rational. I suspect, therefore, that Jen Ankrum, director of Lakewood Playhouse's holiday retelling of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (a co-production with Lakewood Institute of Theatre, LP's youth program), warned her innocent charges I'd be Grinchy. But apparently, my small heart has grown three sizes since October, because ... are you ready for a Christmas miracle? I liked her production. Why, you ask? (Pretend you asked.) Its approach benefits from what may have been an accidental boon, in the form of what directors and critics call a "concept" or unifying vision. Ankrum's take simply works. Read Christian Carvajal's full review of The Chronicles of Narnia in the Music & Culture section.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 22, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, $15, 253.588.0042

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Other, non-North American English-speaking countries know the play The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by an alternate title: The Worst Kids In The World. That should tell you about the quality of the characters in question, and the odds that the title would actually come true. The Herdman clan will be on hand to teach you all about the true spirit of Christmas by lying, cheating, stealing, smoking and other wholesome endeavors. It's a feel-good season of joy for everyone. Or something. - Ron Swarner

THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, 7 p.m. Dec. 19-21, 3 p.m. Dec. 22-24, Tacoma Youth Theatre, 924-B Broadway, Tacoma, $5-$20, pay-what-you-can Dec. 19, 253.677.0531

A Charlie Brown Christmas

See the ultimate sad sack Charlie Brown and his sad sack little Christmas tree find the holiday spirit in the Christmas classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas, at a dreamy locally renowned theater. Break out the "peanuts" to take in this charming Tacoma Musical Playhouse production, and watch young and aspiring local actors from the theater's innovative and premiere education program show their stuff in this quaint and heartfelt little show. To quote Linus, with his much-beloved little blanket in tow: "I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love." Awww ... sniff, sniff. - Kim Thompson

A Charlie Brown Christmas, 11 a.m. Dec. 21; 6:30 p.m. Dec. 22; 7 p.m. Dec. 23; 2 p.m. Dec. 24, Tacoma Musical Playhouse, 7116 6th Ave., Tacoma, $10 general admission,

See Also

Calendar: Arts and Entertainment

Calendar: Music and Nightlife

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