When you can stream a classic like How the Grinch Stole Christmas from home for less than the price of a ticket, why go out to the theater this December? Well, there are many reasons. A trip to the theater can be a holiday tradition. Live actors and musicians add exhilaration that pixels on a TV can't provide. And when the house lights dim and the orchestra swells, you can be transported to new and magical worlds. Your couch at home with cookie crumbs and cat hair? Not so transportive.
While many holiday theatrical productions in the Twin Cities have movie equivalents, how do you decide which ones you should you watch next to a fireplace, and which ones you should open your wallet for? We're here to tell you.
Dr. Seuss's How The Grinch Stole Christmas/Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Taylor Momsen. That's what you were going to say too, right? In the movie, when little Cindy-Lou Who sings "Christmas, Why Can't I Find You?" all we can think about is how that little girl now fronts a hard-rock band. Can the Children's Theatre promise us child actors who will eventually open for Marilyn Manson? No. However, they can promise a studied and inventive adaptation of a story many know by heart. After exchanging Cinderella as their holiday show last year, they've brought back the Grinch with some 2012 all-stars, including Natalie Tran as an undeniably great Cindy-Lou Who. Move over, Momsen.
IF YOU GO: Children's Theatre Company, 2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612-874-0400. Through January 4, 2015.
A Christmas Story: The Musical/A Christmas Story (1983)
The score to A Christmas Story: The Musical is rather unremarkable, with no significant musical phrase or tune to remember when the curtain falls. But this song-and-dance version of Ralphie's quest for a BB gun is less about innovation, more about spectacle. If you're looking for a Broadway experience in Minnesota, you've found it, complete with a New York-based lead actor (Jake Goodman as the 12-year-old Ralphie). But for those who don't need a chorus line of leg lamps, stick with the movie.
IF YOU GO: Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington St., St. Paul; 651-224-4222. Through December 28.
Black Nativity/Black Nativity (2013)
It doesn't get more Christmas than Penumbra's Black Nativity. The Langston Hughes play is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, without any distractions from hovering reindeer or an old man in red velvet. As for the film, writer and director Kasi Lemmons was criticized for her transparent plot -- but have you ever seen a Christmas movie that wasn't predictable? The end goal of the movie and play is gospel, both in the religious and musical contexts, and it is achieved. However, there is one major difference between the play and the movie: community engagement. The play thrives off of recruiting community members to participate. A screen can't recreate that. But Twin Cities theater director Lou Bellamy can.
IF YOU GO: Penumbra Theatre, 270 Kent St., St. Paul; 651-224-3180. Through December 21.
A Very Die Hard Christmas/Die Hard (1988)
Many cherish the glory days of Bruce Willis. Yet neither a serious nor ironic viewing of Die Hard can provide you with the type of mayhem you'll get from Bryant-Lake Bowl's A Very Die Hard Christmas. The super team of Dana's Boys and Mainly Me Productions have created a Twin Cities Christmas classic, with moments including parody songs, a not-so-cute dentist elf, and police mistaking fake blood for real blood. So put the cashmere away and throw on that ugly Christmas sweater, as chances are high you'll leave freckled with a couple drops of the red stuff.
IF YOU GO: Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis; 612-825-8949. Through December 29.
A Christmas Carol and Comedy Roast of Mr. Scrooge/A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) and Scrooged (1988)
Charles Dickens's tale of a rich jerk's overnight transformation into a happy-go-lucky saint has many film and TV adaptations, but we urge you to try to find two better versions than Scrooged and A Muppet Christmas Carol. (You can't.) The former takes a modern and comedic approach, while the latter is more traditional (except for the, you know, half-Muppet, half-human world). We have the same juxtaposition of approaches happening in the Twin Cities, with Camp Bar providing the irreverent comedy and the Guthrie celebrating their 40th production.
If you've got a big group and a Christmas bonus, go to the Guthrie version. If that group is mostly kids, or you just want to see Michael Caine in a nightgown, then Netflix A Muppet Christmas Carol for sure. If you can't stand another gushy rehashing, the Actors Theater of Minnesota has something you literally cannot bring children to at Camp Bar. If you want a Christmas movie without all that religion, a cast that can match Bill Murray in his prime, and an ending that will bring anyone to tears -- go with Scrooged. And if none of these appeals to you, try reading the actual story.
IF YOU GO: A Christmas Carol. Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis; 612-377-2224. Through December 28.
Comedy Roast of Mr. Scrooge. Camp Bar, 490 N. Robert St., St. Paul; 651-292-1844. December 12-21.