#5: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra plays Led Zeppelin at the Riverside Theatre.
Why? Because Robert Plant may have aged gracefully into acoustic Americana in his projects with Alison Krauss and Band of Joy, but thank goodness there are tribute bands to carry on the vocal-chord shredding tradition. Of course there will be light shows, and drum solos, and shaggy-mane-shaking, but we’re most looking forward to hearing the MSO double bass section tear into the crowd-pleasing riff of “Whole Lotta Love.”
#4: Bel Canto Chorus at the Basilica of St. Josaphat’s.
Why? Because the Bel Canto’s annual holiday celebration hits all the Christmas buttons. Familiar carols: check. Majestic setting: check. Adorable kids and handbells: check. A lot of people have made it a holiday tradition, which means there will the satisfying hustle and bustle of crowds to add to the seasonal experience. Richard Hynson conducts.
#3: Stile Antico at the Cathedral of St. John.
Why? Because you’ve heard your share of songs about merry gentleman and holly-less halls, and you’re looking for something a little different. Step back 500 years or so as this British vocal ensemble lets its collective voice soar into the upper atmosphere in St. John’s. The program is built around the seven-part mass of Thomas Tallis, but also includes seasonal music by William Byrd and John Taverner.
#2: Milwaukee Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Marcus Center.
Why? Because it’s not all about sugarplums, toy soldiers and giant mice. Or raising money either. Various versions of The Nutcracker are staged around the world, and the ballet’s popularity as a holiday tradition certainly helps companies balance their books. But it’s also a chance for a great ballet to be seen by lots of people. Michael Pink’s version of Tchaikovsky’s classic is a masterful blend of pageantry, romance, psychology and really fine dancing.
#1: Next to Normal at the Milwaukee Rep.
Why? Because Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s Pulitzer-Prize winning musical seems like an odd choice for holiday fare. But look again. Next to Normal’s story about an unraveling family and the psychodynamics of modern life might be just the thing to help salve the little emotional scars in your family holiday world. Director Mark Clements has assembled a stunning roster of Broadway talent for this production, one of the first after the show’s short but acclaimed Broadway run.