By Cody Elliott
Barry Grove, the legendary executive producer of Manhattan Theatre Club, once told me that the holidays represent a critical time for theaters across the country. Many hold Galas or fundraisers this time of year, and many showcase holiday-specific shows or events. Because MTC is a non-profit, like most of the stages upstate, these were critical sources of revenue- maintaining a broadway stage is not cheap. This short season also represents a disproportionately huge amount of revenues for theaters, so these shows tend to target families who return year after year. This means that theatres often favor the kind of nostalgia-inducing fare that has attracted audiences for decades- such as The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol. There is, of course, nothing wrong with tradition. In fact, there’s something about this time of year that brings out our nostalgia, that speaks directly to our sense of tradition. Perhaps it is the approach of the end of the year, which reminds us that all things must end. It could be that this is the time of year we’re most likely to see distant family and feel the need to overcome past difficulties. Personally, I’m apt to blame the alluring combo of Hot Chocolate, eggnog, and that vaguely pine-y scent that permeates the air in December. It always makes me think of the previous December’s hot chocolate, eggnog, and vaguely pine-y scent. Whatever the reason for the influx of traditions, one of my favorites this time of year is the family night out at the theatre.
For an area with a low density populated by small towns, the Hudson Valley has a unique diversity of performing arts. Best known for the various summer stock series- including Bard’s, Vassar’s, and the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival- there are still many companies that provide year-round fair. It’s not like these are recent additions to the valley, either. Owing to it’s proximity to New York City, and it’s idyllic setting, the Valley has been home for generations of the country’s greatest artists. From the Hudson Valley School to legendary Warhol assistant Billy Name, to writers like Rudolph Wurlitzer- who was also Robert Graves’ secretary- there have always been artists around. The same is true of the performing arts, and the valley is dotted with historic opera houses, such as the ones in Hudson and Peekskill.
I’ve picked out five of my favorite events coming up, and then underneath I’ve listed several others. The season is packed!
Ulster Ballet Company’s A Christmas Carol
Although A Christmas Carol is retold many times each December, the Ulster Ballet Company has found a way to make the story feel dynamic by telling it as a Ballet. This is their 25th Annual production, and they’re proud to have had “over 500” different performers through the years. Director Scarlett Fiero tells me that, with backdrops by local notable painter Leslie Bender, Andre Robles from the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company (the resident dance company at the Egg) as a new Young Scrooge, and an impressive degree of professionalism in their performances, they remain as excited as ever for this year’s production. She sees in Scrooge “a timeless tale of redemption…” that means “it is never too late to change and savor the good spirit of humanity.”
December 5, 6, 7, 8, 2019
Rip the Nut at Hudson Hall
Perhaps the piece I’m most excited about, Rip the Nut takes the nutcracker and mixes it with the local story of Rip Van Winkle, and uses pantomime, slapstick, and humor to tell the story. R.P.W. is, of course, one of Washington Irving’s most famous creations. In addition to being a local, Irving is also often considered the father of American literature, including by such legendary writers as Gore Vidal. Dancers Logan Kruger, Brett Perry, Davon Rainey, and Emma Sandall join director/choreographer Adam H. Weinert for this annual tradition.
Saturday, December 7, 5:15-7:45 PM
Madeline’s Christmas at the Woodstock Playhouse
As a big fan of the work of Ludwig Bemelman (I always find the time to drop in Manhattan’s excellent Bemelman’s Bar, which he decorated, when I’m in the area), I’m thrilled that the Woodstock Playhouse is doing Madeline’s Christmas this year. One of the best theater spaces in the area, the Playhouse was actually completely destroyed by fire in 1988- then “one month shy of its fiftieth anniversary.” But of course, they rebounded, and continue their importance as the hub of the performing arts in Woodstock.
Madeline is a young girl who gets into all sorts of antics around her Parisian boarding school and has been a beloved icon for generations.
December 6 thru 8, 2019
Fri. at 10 a.m.; Sat. at 2 & 7 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m.
This celebration has its roots in the 1980s when the Mosley family of Claverack began celebrating and promoting the holiday. Growing larger over time, after Hudson Opera House’s director Gary Schiro came on board, Operation Unite invited them to be a sponsor and the collaboration commenced. Marketing manager Eric Steinman tells me “Each year, the Kwanzaa Umoja Celebration brings community members together with a variety of cultural entertainment and Operation Unite’s resident dance company Kuumba Dance and Drum. This year’s featured artist is Jordan Hill from Albany, NY. The Kuumba teens are working with Elena Mosley to script this year’s Kwanzaa skit.” He also says to stay tuned to Hudson Hall- “Hudson Hall has been among the sponsors of the annual Hudson Black Arts and Cultural Festival, presented by Operation Unite, New York. The 2020 event takes place on August 8 & 9 at the Henry Hudson Riverfront Park.”
Saturday, December 21, 4:00 PM
Winter Songfest at Bard’s Fisher Center
The kids can sing! This event goes up yearly at Bard University’s Fisher Center. There’s something about this time of year that brings out my appreciation for choral music. It’s airy, it’s beautiful, it’s slightly haunting. These events tend to be packed out, but well worth it- you’re undoubtedly listening to some of the next generations stand out singers at a thing like this. This year’s focuses on the works of Ralph Vaughan Williams, including “Fantasia on Christmas Carols,” and excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.
December 15, 2018, at 8 pm
These selected performances represent but a small fraction of the events going on this season. There’s just something about going to see something live that, perhaps because it’s more ritualized and communal than just watching a movie, marks the season with a sense of occasion. Below, I’ve linked several other opportunities, and keep an eye on this space- I’ll be doing an in-depth write up on one of these soon.
HOLIDAY LIGHTS ON ICE at the Mid Hudson Civic Center
DECEMBER 14 @ 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Saturday, December 14
Three performances: 3:00pm (sold out), 4:30pm (sold out), and 6:30pm
Dec. 6 - 22
Sun, Dec 15, 2019 @ 2pm & 5pm/ Sat, Dec 21, 2019 @ 3pm & 7pm Sun, Dec 22, 2019 @ 2pm & 5pm/ Sat, Dec 28, 2019 @ 2pm & 5pm
It Happened One Christmas Eve at Westchester’s Broadway Theatre November 27 - December 23, 2019
New Paltz Ballet’s Nutcracker
December 12-15, 2019
Choreographer Lisa Nauman adds in that they’re excited to have “principal dancers Teresa Reichlen and (Andrew Scordato who is new this year) from the New York City Ballet,” who she expects to “dazzle” the audience.