Don’t be a Grinch. Here’s your guide to the season’s best entertainment.
A Celtic Woman Christmas • The foxy foursome Celtic Woman, a kind of Riverdance meets Enya meets American Idol, offers the uplifting, spine-tingling vocals that PBS specials, set amid dramatically lit ruins, are made of. Yanni, eat your heart out. They’ll join the Minnesota Orchestra for holiday music to make you long for Ireland—circa 1066. • Dec. 16, Orchestra Hall, mnorch.org
The New Standards Holiday Show • Dec. 2 and 3, Fitzgerald Theater, fitzgeraldtheater.org
VocalEssence’s Welcome Christmas • Dec. 3 to 11, multiple venues, vocalessence.org
The Good Lovelies Christmas Show • Dec. 8, Cedar Cultural Center, thecedar.org
Christmas with Cantus • Dec. 16 to 22, multiple venues, cantusonline.org
Cinderella • While not a holiday show per se, this new Ordway production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic has all the magic of the season and puts things in perspective: you could be scrubbing your evil stepmother’s floor. Instead, you’re listening to songs like “Impossible” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” Happy holidays, princess. • Dec. 13 to Jan. 1, Ordway Center, ordway.org
Santaland Diaries • Through Dec. 30, Woman’s Club of Minneapolis, franktheatre.org
Winter Dreams • Dec. 2 to 30, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theatre, hobt.org
Of Mirth and Mischief • Dec. 16 to 18, Fitzgerald Theater, fitzgeraldtheater.org
Always and Forever • Dec. 22 to Jan. 8, Illusion Theater, illusiontheater.org
Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy • Minnesota Dance Theatre has had the reigning Nutcracker for 47 years because it offers a vision just as over-the-top as your most sugar-coated dreams. Fairies have petticoats the size of Volkswagens, princes are gorgeous, and everyone moves beautifully. • Dec. 23 to 31, Cowles Center, mndance.org
Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker • Dec. 2 and 3, Orpheum Theatre, hennepintheatretrust.org
Ballet of the Dolls’ Nutcracker: The Lost Act • Dec. 9 to 31, Ritz Theater, ritzdolls.com
A Scandinavian Christmas • Dec. 17 and 18, Orchestra Hall, ethnicdancetheatre.com
Ballet Minnesota’s Classic Nutcracker • Dec. 16 to 18, O’Shaughnessy Auditorium, oshaughnessy.stkate.edu
Cirque Dreams Holidaze • Partway through this Cirque du Soleil-styled show, Elvis appears. Which makes sense in a production where elves fly and touch their ears with their toes. Full of contortionists, acrobats, and aerialists, the show offers an appealing take on the Christmas story: if people can do this, anything is possible.
• Dec. 1 to 11, Mystic Lake Showroom, mysticlake.com
Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory • Dec. 1 to 9, James J. Hill House, events.mnhs.org
Weinachtsfest • Dec. 2 to 4, Biwabik, cityofbiwabik.com/biw-wien.htm
It’s a Wonderful Life Live Radio Play • Dec. 13 to 23, St. Paul Hotel, saintpaulhotel.com
Chinese Food and a Movie • Dec. 24, Loring Theater, loringtheater.com
The faces behind this month's arts and culture
The St. Olaf Christmas Festival at 100
It’s still many hours before the St. Olaf Christmas Festival begins, but waves of Norwegian sweaters are already flooding the college campus in Northfield. “I own three,” says Anton Armstrong, the college’s choir conductor since 1990. As well he should: tradition rules the festival, which has happened without fail for a century now, despite a couple of streakers one year and Armstrong’s unscheduled nap during another program. “I was tired,” he explains, “and it was beautiful music.”
The festival, in which the college’s elite choirs and orchestra create a wall of sound in the gymnasium, is perhaps the most famous concert of its kind in the country, thanks to recordings and radio broadcasts, first on St. Olaf’s own WCAL, now on Minnesota Public Radio. This year, the festival will also be simulcast in movie theaters across America.
With such tradition, however, comes scrutiny. The song selection is done by committee and some numbers, says Armstrong, are non-negotiable: “If I don’t do ‘Beautiful Savior’ at the end of every program, I could just as well offer my letter of resignation.”
Each year, a new theme is hashed out based on cultural currents—“What do people need to hear?” Armstrong says. This time around, in addition to songs in Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish, he’ll debut a work by an African-American composer with steel drums and heavy percussion. “Maybe we’re pushing tradition,” he says, “but the tradition is strong enough to be pushed.” • The St. Olaf Christmas Festival is held December 1 to 4. stolaf.edu
The story behind Kevin Kling’s first children’s book
Kevin Kling is as surprised as anyone that he’s never written a children’s book until now. “No one asked,” says the master storyteller one afternoon at Barbette in Minneapolis. Someone finally did, and the result, Big Little Brother (Borealis, $18), like all Kling stories, is as much truth as fiction.
The plot follows a diminutive boy and his younger, but bigger, brother. “That was us,” Kling says of growing up with his “little” brother, now a salesman in Maple Grove. “I ran the show for a while, but he was bigger than me by age 2.”
Chris Monroe, a Duluth artist whose quirky Violet Days cartoon has run in the Star Tribune for 16 years now, illustrated the book. Publishers Weekly called it “mumblecore for the picture-book crowd,” a reference to indie movies about mundane situations. “The story isn’t contrived,” Monroe says. “Editors always want to put a message into kids’ books, but I’d rather just entertain, not moralize. I once got a review about a book I did calling it ‘pointless.’ I took that as a compliment.”
The story concludes with the younger brother saving the older one from a bully, which also really happened. “My brother looked intimidating because he was always forming fists,” Kling says. “In reality, he was tightly carrying donuts—he’d get them at breakfast and hold onto them all day.” In the book, of course, Kling’s brother just scares the bully. “In fact,” Kling says, “he took the kid out.” • mhspress.org
Restoring Minnesota’s greatest instruments
Robert Ridgell sits at the organ behind the altar at the Cathedral of St. Paul and taps out some low, spooky chords. “I’m having a Phantom of the Opera moment,” he says. The sound reverberates off the stone walls, hanging in the air—“a full eight seconds,” he says proudly. He smiles and notes, “Organists are kind of a different breed.”
Ridgell came to the cathedral this summer to be its music director and organist, having served for years at Trinity Church in New York, famously tucked between office towers on Wall Street. The church was so flooded with dust from 9/11 that the organ became unplayable and was replaced with a digital model—to organists, the equivalent of artificial flowers.
“The organ is the king of instruments,” Ridgell says, pointing to the balcony where the cathedral’s massive main organ is being hauled away, pipe by pipe, as part of a $2.5 million restoration of both instruments. “Play a note on that one,” he jokes, “and it will still be ringing the next day.”
Ridgell has already played the cathedral organs for soldiers’ funerals, a 9/11 remembrance, and up to four weddings a weekend. “The Cathedral is here to be a part of everyone’s life,” he says. Then he pulls out all the stops, literally, rattling the floor with Bach. “You could go to Notre Dame in Paris and marvel at a sound like this,” he says, “or you could come here.” • Ridgell leads the Cathedral Choir School in Britten’s Ceremony of Carols on December 18. cathedralsaintpaul.org