#5: Frankly Music at the Wisconsin Conservatory.
Why? Because you’re not quite ready for “Fa-la-la’s” and “Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight!,” no matter how spirited the interpretation. As always, Frank Almond assembles a brilliant ensemble for his chamber music series. But uniquely, this event will focus on vocal music, featuring baritone Kelly Markgraf singing pieces mostly from the 20th century, including Ned Rorem’s War Scenes and Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach. Almond caps the program with the chamber version of Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night.
#4: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at First Stage.
Why? Because despite Sarah Palin’s proclamations that Christmas is disappearing courtesy of a liberal conspiracy, the Christmas Pageant is still a familiar fixture in grade schools across the country. And Barbara Robinson’s satirical book and play features a pageant starring the infamous Herdman clan--who add their own special dramatic flourishes to the tales of mangers and herald angels. Kids and adults alike take the stage one of First Stage’s most popular shows.
#3: The Found Footage Festival at Turner Hall.
Why? Because before Tosh.O, and even before YouTube, people were doing crazy things and recording them on video. Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett figured that out way back in 2004, and have been searching garage sales, dumpsters and Public Access Channel archives ever since, assembling the weirdest finds into an evening of slightly fractured nostalgia. This show is a special tribute to Prueher and Pickett’s Wisconsin roots, focusing exclusively on videos found in the Midwest. So if you were ever curious about what a home shopping channel looked like 30 years ago, this is the place to be.
#2: A Cudahy Caroler Christmas at In Tandem Theatre.
Why? Because some holiday shows feature characters named Ebeneezer, Fan or Rudolph. And others feature the likes of Stasch, Edna and Pee Wee. In Tandem’s long-running Christmas tradition is just such a show, telling the story of the Cudahy Carolers, their tragic breakup (which makes the Beatles’ feuds seem like friendly spats), and their triumphant reunion. You may know the lyrics to “O, Bowling Night” and “We T’ree Guys from Cudahy Are.” But if you don’t, you should. And there’s only one way to learn them.
#1: Milwaukee Rep’s A Christmas Carol at the Pabst Theatre.
Why? Because The Rep’s version of Charles Dickens’ classic is the holiday gift that keeps on giving—a beautiful story and great music with an impressive production that fits perfectly into the Victorian splendor of the Pabst Theatre. As always, there are familiar faces—director Aaron Posner, actor Christopher Donahue as Scrooge, as well as an ensemble that includes Jonathan Smoots, Marti Gobel, Jonathan Wainwright, and Emily Trask. But Posner has taken a step in the tradition of British Pantomime, and cast Jim Pickering (who has played his share of Scrooges over the years) as Mrs. Fezziwig, who will certainly be cutting a worthy caper during that extravagant holiday party.