As you shovel the sidewalk and plan your holiday shopping this weekend, don't forget that Western Pennsylvania stages offer oases of escape from the hectic pace of December. Pittsburgh CLO has been doing just that for 22 years with "A Musical Christmas Carol," a family show for chilling out with familiar faces and a timeless story.
Tom Atkins, who recently anchored Pittsburgh Public Theater's "Our Town," returns to "Carol" as Ebenezer Scrooge for the sixth consecutive year. Long-timers Tim Hartman, Jeff Howell and Terry Wickline are among cast members in double-digits of participation, while Patrick Cannon, Justin Fortunato and Lisa Ann Goldsmith are more recent additions. Simon Nigam, 8, a Pittsburgh CLO Academy student and second-grader at Falk Laboratory School, will play Tiny Tim for a second time.
"A Musical Christmas Carol" is at the Byham Theater, Downtown, through Dec. 22. Tickets range from $28.75-$60.75, with half-price tickets for children 3-14 at 412-456-6666 or pittsburghclo.org.
It's not all holiday themes this time of year, although the Christmas spirit is hard to miss on marquees throughout the Pittsburgh Cultural District and beyond. Here's more of what's on stage this month.
* Theatre Festival in Black & White (Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company): In its 10th year, the festival that pairs black directors with white playwrights and white directors with black playwrights subtitles its works "Holiday Edition." Titles from the two programs of original one-act plays are:
"True Meaning" by Andrew Ade, directed by Rita Gregory; "Cornucopia" by Tammy Ryan, directed by Ashley Southers; "Christmas Star" by Ray Werner directed by Monteze Freeland; "Hanukkah in the Back Country" by Judy Meiksin, directed By Kim El; "And To All A Good Night" by Lissa Brennan, directed By Cheryl El Walker; "Where I First Saw The Light" by Dr. Tameka Cage Conley, directed By T. C. Brown; "Just Jesus" by Marlon Erik Youngblood, directed By Kaitlin Mausser; "We Need A Ramadan" by Aasiyah El-Rice, directed By Vince Ventura; "An Ubuntu Holiday" by Kim El, directed By Stephen Santa; and "St Clair Xmas" by Wali Jamal, directed by Marcus Muzopappa.
Through Dec. 13-17 (talkbacks on diversity Dec. 14-15) at Pittsburgh Playwrights, 937 Liberty Ave., third floor, Downtown. Programs are $40 each, ticketed separately; www.pghplaywrights.com or 412-377-7803.
* "The Second City's Nut-Cracking Holiday Revue" (Pittsburgh Public Theater's O'Reilly Theater): A seasonal blend of scenes, original songs and improvisation by the comedy troupe. The Chicago-based sketch artists have been known to cover topics such as uneven gift exchanges with your clueless boyfriend and couples therapy with Joseph and Mary. The O'Reilly setting includes cabaret-style table seating. Dec. 12-14 at the O'Reilly Theater; $28-$48 ($15.75 student program), plus cabaret tables of four at $55 per person; ppt.org or 412-316-1600.
* "Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge" (Little Lake Theatre): The mad, mad parody by Christopher Durang premiered at City Theatre in 2002 and tells the tale of the long-suffering Mrs. Cratchit, who has had it with Bob and their brood. Jena Oberg directs a cast that includes Leah Hillgrove in the title role. Dec. 12-14; tickets are $18 Thursday and $20 Friday and Saturday; $12 for 15 and younger (shows are at 8 p.m.); littlelake.org or 724-745-6300.
* "Plaid Tidings" (CLO Cabaret): The boys are back in town. The heavenly "Forever Plaid" guys deliver oldies faves in an earthly concert with a holiday spin. The cast features Billy Hepfinger (Smudge), Brandon Lambert (Jinx), Eric Longo (Sparky) and Quinn Patrick Shannon (Frankie). Through Jan. 12; $34.75-$44.75 at CLOCabaret.com or 412-456-6666.
* "A Lyrical Christmas Carol" (Pittsburgh Musical Theater): Not to be confused with CLO's "A Musical Christmas Carol," the show was created by Ken and Jane Gargaro in 1991 to feature carols and the music of Bach, Mozart and Vaughn Williams. Dec.19-22 at the New Hazlett Theater, North Side; $15 ($10 for students) in advance or $20 for all at the door; newhazletttheater.org or 412-539-0900 ext. 232.
"Christmas With the Rat Pack - Live at the Sands" (PNC Broadway Across America - Pittsburgh): Before Heinz Hall welcomes "Ghost the Musical" for the new year, it ushers in the music of Frank and Dino and Sammy and a 12-piece band. Songs include 'Fly Me To The Moon', 'The Lady Is A Tramp', 'Mr. Bojangles', 'That's Amore" and seasonal tunes. Dec. 24-29; Tickets are $24-$68 at trustarts.org or 412-392-4900.
* "Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood" (Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre): David Whalen reprises his turn as the famed literary detective with Justin R.G. Holcomb making his PICT debut as Dr. Watson. The 1978 play by Paul Giovanni follows "The Mask of Moriarty," a holiday success story for PICT in 2011. Mr. Giovanni's more serious take on the detecting team finds Holmes and Watson battling supernatural demons, with inspiration from Arthur Conan Doyle works such as "The Sign of the Four." Through Dec. 21 at the Charity Randall Theatre, Oakland; $25 -$48 ($20 under age 26) at picttheatre.org or 412-561-6000.
"Well" (Off The Wall Productions): The Season of the Female Playwright continues with "Well," Lisa Kron's 2006 Tony Award-nominated autobiographical play. The "multi-character theatrical exploration is about health and illness both in the individual and in a community," the audience is told by Lisa, played by Daina Michelle Griffith. Lisa makes a point that it's not about her chronically ill mother, Ann (Virginia Wall Gruenert), but we know better. Dec. 13-28 at Off the Wall Theater, Carnegie, $5-$35 at showclix.com or 1-888-71-TICKETS.
"The Alchemist's Lab" (Point Park Conservatory): The contemporary comedy directed, written and devised by Gab Cody, in collaboration with students of the Conservatory Theatre Company, is loosely based on Ben Johnson's 17th-century "The Alchemist." Through Dec. 15 at the Rauh Theatre, Pittsburgh Playhouse, Oakland; $18-$20 at pittsburghplayhouse.com or 412-392-8000.