It’s that time of year again. The holidays: a special mixture of family, friends, love, drama, materialism, tradition, mayhem, pomp, unity, dysfunction, hope, depression, thankfulness and a thousand other feelings better left dulled with food, booze and entertainment.
Luckily for us, Philadelphia has no shortage of things to keep the holidays a festive blur and worthy of keeping your relatives distracted and out of your business. Here is a rundown of events to keep the holidays interesting.
A number of musicians are coming to Philadelphia with the holidays in mind. The Brian Setzer Orchestra gives the holidays a big-band/swing appeal when the Stray Cats guitarist performs at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29 at Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside; (215) 572-7650.
Canadian jazz singer Holly Cole performs a special “Night Before Christmas” show at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2 at World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St.; (215) 222-1400.
Usually, burly men in heavy makeup and outlandish clothing screams gay. But not this time. The heavy-metal band Twisted Sister is coming to town for “A Twisted Christmas,” a holiday concert featuring the band’s greatest hits peppered with head-banging versions of holiday classics, 8 p.m. Dec. 2 at Keswick Theatre.
R&B singer Will Downing performs a holiday concert at 8 p.m. Dec. 19, also at Keswick. Grammy-nominated jazz group Fourplay follows suit at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20.
Local musicians get into the holiday mix with “Autumn Falls: A Solstice Benefit Concert,” a seasonal show featuring some of Philly’s best folk musicians, at 8 p.m. Dec. 2 at World Cafe Live.
If you want your Christmas to rock without the shock, head over to Reading for “Rock’n Christmas with the King,” featuring Elvis tribute act Travis LeDoyt, performing timeless Elvis hits as well as his take on some of the most time-honored Christmas tunes, at 8 p.m. Dec. 11 at Sovereign Performing Arts Center, 136 N. Sixth St., Reading; (610) 898-7200.
A classic Christmas tale gets an old-school treatment when The Players Club of Swarthmore Theater presents “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” Nov. 27- 29 and Dec. 3-6 and 10-13, 614 Fairview Road, Swarthmore; (610) 328-4271.
If your idea of what Christmas is supposed to be looks like something out of an old MGM film, shuffle on down to the visual feast that is “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” a brand-new musical telling the story of two showbiz buddies putting on a show in a magical Vermont inn, and finding their perfect mates in the bargain. How much do you want to bet that, despite being in a magical Vermont inn, the two “perfect” mates end up being women? Anyway, catch the holiday cheer through Dec. 3 at Kimmel’s Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St.; (215) 790-5847.
Another traditionally yuletide spectacle comes in the form of The Rockettes’ “Radio City Christmas,” a huge holiday-themed spectacular featuring high-kicking fun for the whole family, at 4 and 7 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Wachovia Center, 3601 S. Broad St.; (215) 336-2000.
Nostalgia is also on the menu in King of Prussia which is featuring “Rockwell’s America,” the largest 3-D Norman Rockwell exhibit where many of you will holiday shop, King of Prussia Mall’s Lower Level Plaza, 256 Mall Blvd.; (610) 768-0710.
Want to relive (or fetishize) your old-school Catholic upbringing? Then head south to Delaware to catch “Sister’s Christmas Catechism,” the latest addition to the popular “Late Nite Catechism” series created by Maripat Donovan. The humorous stage show uses audience members as Sister attempts to discover the whereabouts of the Magi’s gold. Kind of like “CSI: Bethlehem,” 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at Du Pont Theatre, 1007 N. Market St., Wilmington; (302) 656-4401.
You can keep the theatrical-biblical mojo going with “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical retelling of the story of Joseph, his jealous brothers and one particularly rainbow-ish garment, through Dec. 13 at Devon Theatre, 6319 Frankford Ave.; (215) 338-6300.
You probably won’t be able to find a holiday show more over-the-top than “Cirque Dreams: Holidaze,” through Dec. 11 at Xanadu Theater at Trump Taj Mahal, 1000 Boardwalk Ave., Atlantic City; (609) 449-5150. In the show, ornaments come to life as costumed characters, performed by an international cast of acrobats, aerialists, singers, dancers and musicians sure to dazzle and amaze all who attend.
Hanukkah enthusiasts can catch “World of Jewtopia,” the longest-running comedy in off-Broadway history, starring Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson in a mix of stand-up comedy, multimedia, audience participation and projected images, Dec. 24-27 at Kimmel’s Perelman Theater, 240 S. Broad St.; (215) 790-5847.
Comedian Jackie Mason keeps the Hanukkah comedy flowing when he performs at 8 p.m. Dec. 12 at Keswick Theatre.
The Kimmel, meanwhile, has a slew of holiday-themed shows for all tastes. The Vienna Boys Choir keeps things traditional at 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at Kimmel’s Verizon Hall. The Rock School presents “Nutcracker 1776,” a historical-Philly-based take on the classic Christmas story, at 2 p.m. Dec. 5-6 at Merriam Theater. The Pennsylvania Ballet does George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” Dec. 12-31 at the Academy of Music. Peter Nero and the Philly POPS get in the concert action Dec. 5-20 at Verizon Hall. Not to be outdone, the Philadelphia Orchestra has some holiday treats up its collective sleeve, including Handel’s “Messiah,” 2 p.m. Dec. 13, and “The Glorious Sounds of Christmas,” Dec. 17-19 at Verizon Hall. For something completely different, check out “TubaChristmas” (that’s right, tubas!), a free performance featuring more than 100 regional tuba, sousaphone and euphonium players, noon Dec. 19 at Kimmel’s Commonwealth Plaza.
Got kids? Need to keep them occupied? You have our sympathies. Look no further than Enchantment Theatre’s adaptation of the classic children’s book “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” an eye-popping show with life-sized puppets, masked actors, a jazz score and magic, in “The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon,” Dec. 2-Jan. 3 at Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St.; (215) 893-1999.
The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts gets the holiday spirit swinging with two family-friendly, high-energy performances. “Irish Christmas in America” features Irish holiday carols and dancing at 8 p.m. Dec. 11. The next night, the Annenberg gets down with the Big Easy with Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing holiday classics with a twist of ragtime, blues and jazz in “A Creole Christmas,” at 8 p.m. Dec. 12, 3680 Walnut St.; (215) 573-8537.
The James A. Michener Art Museum invites the community to participate in free holiday-themed family activities and entertainment during “First Friday,” 6-9 p.m. Dec. 4, 138 S. Pine St., Doylestown; (215) 340-9800, with Central Bucks West High School Choir performing seasonal favorites. Children and adults can decorate wrapping paper used to wrap the Children’s Gallery artwork, donated to Fighting AIDS Continuously Together Bucks County.
The Michener also hosts a Holiday Gift Making Workshop in the Ann and Herman Silverman Pavilion, 1-3 p.m. Dec. 5, where participating children, their families and friends can create handmade gifts, wrap them and design original greeting cards to accompany their treasures.
Michener’s Holiday Open House will be held 7-9 p.m. Dec. 8, inviting museum guests to explore the galleries, shop for holiday gifts and take in performances presented by area music groups.
If you want to see some truly unique and pleasantly twisted takes on holiday decoration, we highly recommend heading down to ArtStar Gallery for its Annual Holiday Show, an exhibition of handmade ornaments and holiday cards by select artists, through Dec. 31, 623 N. Second St.; (215) 238-1557.
Eleone Dance Company gets into the spirit with “Carols in Color,” a holiday dance musical directed by Patrick Crawford and executive-produced by Sheila A. Ward, retelling the gospel according to St. Matthew using contemporary music, dance and powerful narration, Dec. 17-20 at the John E. Allen Jr. Theater, 1346 N. Broad St.; (800) 838-3006.
Walking Fish Theatre wants to know if you’re “tired of those holiday shows that move you spiritually and make you think of those less fortunate.”
Um ... yeah.
To that end, the company is offering two irreverent shows this season. Revival Burlesque presents “A Burlesque Carol!” a comedic take on the corruption and greed of the for-profit theater industry. When producer Sid Stigletz prepares to sell his last burlesque theater to Disney, employees Brick Horsepipe and Tiny Tim will be out of a job. When the ghost of his former partner visits him, you can kind of figure out what’s next.
Now if that seems too highbrow for you, Walking Fish is also offering “High Dramma” [sic], which promises “dick jokes, violence and gallows humor” at 9 p.m. Dec. 18-19. Both shows are staged at 2509 Frankford Ave.; www.walkingfishtheatre.com.
No one shines an unflattering light on the absurdities of life quite like out humorist David Sedaris, so we are happy Flashpoint Theatre Company is staging a production based on his hit book “The Santaland Diaries,” Dec. 3-20 at Second Stage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St.; (215) 665-9720.
The Dumpsta Players put irresponsible breeders on blast with their annual X-mess show, “Jon and Kate Plus HATE In Outer Space,” at 10 p.m. Dec. 16 at Bob and Barbara’s, 1509 South St.; (215) 545-4511. Any show where Kate Gosselin fights Octomom has our money.
Speaking of black comedies, “The Eight: Reindeer Monologues” has become somewhat of a perennial holiday treat, and is returning for a dysfunctional, player-hating run on Rudolph and Santa, Dec. 2-22 at Society Hill Playhouse, 507 S. Eighth St.; (215) 923-0210.
New Hope gets in on the irreverent holiday action with a show that dares to dress the Holy Mother in drag. In “Madonna’s Christmas Celebration,” the Virgin Mary sets the record straight in a musical retelling of the birth and life of the young Jesus Christ through original music, parodies of holiday favorites and Top-40 hits by the likes of Black Eyed Peas, Beyoncé, Lady GaGa, Katy Perry, Rihanna and the other, less virginal Madonna, 9 p.m. Dec. 19 at Harlans Cabaret, 6426 Lower York Road, New Hope; (215) 862-5225.
If those comedic offerings aren’t morbid enough for you, check out the festive happenings at Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Ave.; (215) 228-8200, which also offers holiday ornaments, books, apparel and novelties for the history buff on your list.
That should be enough to keep you all occupied until you have to figure out what to do for New Year’s. Stay cheerful!