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Ho ho ho(liday) shows: Seasonal A&E ranges from ‘A Christmas Carol’ to Keri Noble to Gingerbread City

Bob Cratchit (Adam Sippola) joins with carollers singing outside of Ebeneezer Scrooge’s office in the Duluth Playhouse’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 6
The Ghost of Christmas Past (Louisa Scorich) and Ebeneezer Scrooge (Michael Kraklio) witness a scene from Scrooge’s unhappy childhood, watching as his sister Fan (Rufina Robbins) picks up a young Scrooge (Oskar Lindamann) from school in the Duluth Playhouse’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 6
Katie McMahon returns to Duluth with Celtic holiday tunes. Submitted photo. 3 / 6
David Saffert and Jillian Snow Harris star in "A Liberace & Liza Christmas." Submitted photo4 / 6
The ghost of Jacob Marley (Mike Pederson), condemned to wander the world bound in heavy chains because of his greed in life, appears to Ebeneezer Scrooge in the Duluth Playhouse’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com5 / 6
Pepperkakebyen is a Gingerbread City on display at the Nordic Center. Photo courtesy of Alison Aune. 6 / 6

What to do when you can't find the perfect adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," one that isn't a musical per se, but has a musical element: Write your own.

Jeffrey Madison, director of the Duluth Playhouse's production of the traditional tale, has spent the past seven months creating a theatrical piece he described as a hybrid. The story rings true to Dickens, but has carollers caroling, family sing-alongs, classic holiday tunes between scenes, and ethereal mood-music to introduce the ghostly figures.

But there won't be, for instance, a duet with Bob Cratchit and Ebenezer soft-shoeing through a snowscape.

"If we did our own (adaptation), we could craft the characters as we saw fit and give new motivations to (them) — Scrooge and the like," said Madison. "We had the freedom to really inject it with the music. It warms it quite a bit."

The Playhouse's original take on "A Christmas Carol" opens at 7:30 p.m. today and plays at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 17.

"A Christmas Carol" is the story of cranky old Ebenezer Scrooge, a money hungry man with no time for holiday festivities. On Christmas Eve, he is visited by three ghosts who show him his past, his present and his future — ultimately changing his defining personality characteristics.

Madison, who already had a cast list, began pulling out situations and dialogue from Charles Dickens' story in May. Then Shad Olsen rewrote his rewrite to make the language more accessible, Madison said.

David Packa created new musical compositions, sometimes reconfiguring traditional holiday music to create otherworldly sounds.

"We're all very proud of it," Madison said. "The process was long and hard and I'm very much looking forward to just handing it over to the cast for opening night."

Here is a roundup of other seasonal plays, concerts, tours and fairs.


"A Liberace & Liza Christmas"

Harken back to the televised holiday special: celebs in sequins or festive sweaters gathered around a piano getting so very, very merry. David Saffert, a piano-playing Spooner native with a knack for channeling Liberace, will perform alongside Jillian Snow Harris, who is as much Liza as actual Liza.

Expect holiday tunes, sing-alongs, and special guests ranging from Melody Mendis as Barbra Streisand or Sarah Lawrence and Cal Metts, of Lyric Opera of the North, as, well, themselves.

"A Liberace & Liza Christmas" opens at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at The Underground. Information:


The Minnesota Ballet's take on the traditional tale is set in Manhattan during the Edwardian period. Otherwise, expect Clara's present-with-potential from Uncle Dosselmeyer, a battle with the in-house rodents, a fleet of fairies and Asian, Arabian, Spanish and Russian dancers. Also: strange things are afoot when Mother Ginger mixes up the batter to make some wild gingerbread kiddos. It's all set to a live Tchaikovsky score.

"The Nutcracker" opens at 7 p.m. Friday at Symphony Hall. Information:

"Sanders Family Christmas"

Christmas Eve, 1941. The Sanders family, last seen in "Smoke on the Mountain," is preparing to to send Dennis Sanders off to war. But first, funny stories and Southern gospel holiday tunes with Pastor Mervin Oglethorpe (played by Andy Roemhildt) and the fam. County Seat Theater is closing its 30th anniversary season with a favorite the company originally produced in 2005 at the Old Country Church Theater in Atkinson.

"Sanders Family Christmas" opens Dec. 1 at Encore Performing Arts Center, Cloquet. Information:

"The Santaland Diaries"

If it isn't already, it should be: a modern-day holiday tradition along the lines of viewings of "A Christmas Story." This one-actor show is an adaptation of humorist David Sedaris's super-funny autobiographical tale of a writer who went to work as an elf at Macy's. This version stars Luke Moravec and is directed by Cheryl Skafte.

"The Santaland Diaries" opens at 8 p.m. Dec. 7 at The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St. Information:


Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra

The local orchestra, directed by Dirk Meyer, bookends the month with, first, a pops show that channels oodles of holiday cheer — featuring singers from Lyric Opera of the North — and ending with one of the bigger regional New Year's Eve events, a symphonic tribute to Prince with a full orchestra.

"White Christmas" pops concert is at 3 p.m. Dec. 2 at Symphony Hall; "Purple-Rain" pops concert is Dec. 31 at Symphony Hall. Information:

Katie McMahon's Celtic Christmas

McMahon came to the United States as a performer with "Riverdance." She met her husband, a St. Paul-ite, and settled in Minnesota — and has played regular seasonal shows in Duluth. Although, her last performance was for St. Patrick's Day. This go-round, there will be holiday tunes backed by her Celtic band, singers and high-stepping dancers.

Katie McMahon's Celtic Christmas is at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8 at Mitchell Auditorium. Information:

Keri Noble's "A Very Special Christmas"

Noble is a morning show host on a Twin Cities radio station and raspy-voiced singer-songwriter who has drawn comparisons to Melissa Etheridge. Noble's latest album is "Find My Way Home," billed as "a collection of very personal feelings." In 2011, she released the album "More than Santa."

Keri Noble performs at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2. Information:


Rose Ensemble's "Christmas in Baroque Malta"

This Twin Cities-based vocal ensemble has collected 17th century Christmas music — found in the archives of St. Paul's Cathedral in Malta — and will perform the works as part of a holiday concert tour.

Expect solos, duets, trios and works for full ensembles and a Baroque chamber orchestra.

Rose Ensemble's "Christmas in Baroque Malta" is at 7 p.m. Dec. 14 at Pilgrim Congregational Church. Information:

"Handel's Messiah Sing-Along"

For decades, Shelley Gruskin has directed a community sing along of "Handel's Messiah," backed by the St. Scholastica Center for Early Music. It's a charming tradition: Imagine Mitchell Auditorium filled with so, so, so many voices. BYO-score, or buy one at the door.

"Handel's Messiah Sing Along" is 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at Mitchell Auditorium. Information:


Bentleyville Tour of Lights

This light display at Bayfront Festival Park is not to be missed. First, because of its grandiosity; Second, because it's impossible to miss as you cruise through the city. Nathan Bentley, a sort of Willy Wonka of holiday lights, started this annual tour at his own home. It outgrew that space and is now harborside. Expect to see light displays that look like local landmarks and favorite characters, visit with one Claus or the other. Plus cookies, warm drinks, bonfires, hats.

Bentleyville is currently open. Information:

Glensheen mansion

The local mansion has gotten gussied up for the holidays, and there are a bunch of tour options to consider the space in a new, festive way. There are more than 25 Christmas trees, hundreds of feet of garland, and cookies made from Clara Congdon's recipe. There is an option to tour the mansion, lit by just the holiday lights, and another to see how the servants lived during Christmas.

Information about Glensheen's Christmas tours:

Marcia Hales' Spirit in the Lights

Deep, deep into Park Point, there is a residential display that goes above and beyond: Marcia Hales' Spirit in the Lights — and it doesn't look like a Menards truck tipped over in the yard, as Hales likes to say. This display at 3739 S. Lake Avenue features lights, animals, archways and a wishing penguin. It was featured on ABC's "The Great Christmas Light Fight" in 2015 — though the hometown hero did not win the $300,000 grand prize. It opens Dec. 6.

Information: Go to Holiday Spirit in the Lights on Facebook.


For the sixth consecutive year, the Nordic Center (23 N. Lake Ave.) has transformed into a Gingerbread City — based on Pepperkakebyen, an annual display in Bergen, Norway. Expect white lights, Gingerbread displays ranging from quaint cottages to ambitious landmark pieces, and the sweet smell of the holidays. There is also the opportunity to make crafts.

Pepperkakebyen: Duluth's Gingerbread City runs through Dec. 9. Information: Go to Pepperkakebyen Gingerbread City on Facebook.


Duluth Winter Village

More than 40 local business will set up shop in wooden cabins on the grounds of Glensheen for a two-day, free outdoor winter market. Some of the participants include Whimsy, Spirit Bay, Frost River, Bent Paddle, Epicurean, DLH Clothing, Nice Girls of the North and more. Duluth Winter Village is Dec. 2-3. Information:


The annual Julebyen Festival, in Knife River, is a three-day, Scandinavian-themed Christmas festival with vendors huts, a Troll Village that focuses on sports gear, books, a vintage railroad display and a Finnish whipsled. The North Shore Scenic Railroad will provide a Troll Trail, a round trip tour from the Depot to the festival. There is also a live nativity, a celebration of music and more. Julebyen is Dec. 1-3 in Knife River. Information: