Just Do Art: The Winterfresh Edition

Adapted from Dickens’ performance notes, “A Christmas Carol” pours on the period charm, through Dec. 28 at Merchant’s House Museum.  Courtesy of Summoners Ensemble Theatre

Adapted from Dickens’ performance notes, “A Christmas Carol” pours on the period charm, through Dec. 28 at Merchant’s House Museum. Courtesy of Summoners Ensemble Theatre

BY SCOTT STIFFLER  |  “A CHRISTMAS CAROL” AT MERCHANT’S HOUSE MUSEUM
Performed in a house known for being visited by considerably more than three ghosts, this Summoners Ensemble production of “A Christmas Carol” is faithful to Charles Dickens’ vision of how his 1843 novella should be presented to live audiences. Based on the author’s own solo touring version, storyteller John Kevin Jones and director Rhonda Dodd emphasize the beautiful narrative imagery and wry humor largely absent from cinematic adaptations. Further credibility is added by the setting: the landmark 1832 Merchant’s House Museum, home to many spectral sightings (so far, none of them involving former business partners weighed down by chains). What Merchant’s House does have to offer is period charm, as Jones portrays 15+ characters in an elegant Greek Revival double parlor filled with mid-19th century furnishings and holiday decorations.

Fri.–Sun., Dec. 19–21 & 26–28 and Mon.–Tues., Dec. 22–23 at 7 p.m. Special Christmas Eve performance at 6 p.m. on Dec. 24. Limited seating, reservations highly recommended. For tickets ($37.50–$57.50), call 800-838-3006 or visit brownpapertickets.com. Also visit merchantshouse.org. At Merchant’s House Museum (29 E. Fourth St., btw. Lafayette & Bowery).

Don’t miss cabaret’s Christmas Dream Team, live on the Birdland stage.    Photo by Bill Westmoreland, Graphic by Todd Johnson

Don’t miss cabaret’s Christmas Dream Team, live on the Birdland stage. Photo by Bill Westmoreland, Graphic by Todd Johnson

A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS
Like the whiff of fresh forest air you get when passing a sidewalk Christmas tree stand, this annual summit of top-notch vocal talent sends you on your way with the feeling that you’ve just tapped into the true spirit of the season. Rarefied wit Jim Caruso, in-demand pianist Billy Stritch and brassy Klea Blackhurst bring their own distinct variations of sparkle and shine to holiday classics, then the tear up the classy joint in trio form with searing arrangements (“It’s The Holiday Season,” “Let it Snow”) and breezy, laugh-out-loud banter. Now celebrating its half-decade mark, “A Swinging Birdland Christmas” has become as much of a beloved tradition as the seasonal TV specials that inspired it. If you can’t make these upcoming gigs, the Caruso/Stritch charisma is on display throughout the year, at Birdland’s Monday night “Cast Party” — where crooners, Broadway legends and virtuoso musicians gather for a raucous open mic night that’s pure cabaret bliss.

Dec. 21, 23, 24, 25 at 6 p.m. and Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. At Birdland Jazz Club (315 W. 44th St., btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves). For tickets ($30 plus $10 food/drink minimum), call 212-581-3080 or visit birdlandjazz.com (where the “Swinging Birdland Christmas” CD is available for purchase). “Cast Party” happens every Mon. at Birdland. Doors open at 9pm, show at 9:30pm. $25 cover, $10 food/drink minimum. For info, visit jim-caruso.com.

Their app and your feet create a joyful noise, at the “High Line Soundwalk” portion of Make Music Winter.   Their app and your feet create a joyful noise, at the “High Line Soundwalk” portion of Make Music Winter.  Their app and your feet create a joyful noise, at the “High Line Soundwalk” portion of Make Music Winter.   Photo by Liz Ligon courtesy Friends of the High Line

Their app and your feet create a joyful noise, at the “High Line Soundwalk” portion of Make Music Winter. Photo by Liz Ligon, courtesy Friends of the High Line

MAKE MUSIC WINTER
Thirteen becomes your lucky number, when Make Music New York celebrates the first day of winter by hosting a baker’s dozen of parades. Streets, parks and other public spaces are enlivened with the joyful noise of artistic expression, as marchers become the medium. Beginning at 2 p.m. at Sixth Ave. & Spring St., composer Daniel Goode leads a “Soho Gamelan Walk,” with participants drumming on the hollow cast iron fronts of buildings (gloves recommended!). At 4 p.m., meet at the basketball courts by the W. Fourth subway stop for “Village in Volume celebrates In C” — a global celebration of the 1964 minimalist work by Terry Riley. Bring your own instruments (large cue cards display musical cells, which will lead participants through the piece as well as along the route around Washington Square Park. At 5 p.m., meet below the High Line at Gansevoort & Washington Sts., where the first 100 people will receive on-loan speakers from Friends of the High Line. You’ll need them for “The Gaits: a High Line Soundwalk” — whose free smartphone app turns footsteps into twinkling metallic sounds, electric guitar chords, dulcimer notes, water splashes, car horns and applause.

Free. Sun., December 21. Parades begin from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in four of the five boroughs (sorry, Staten Island). Info at makemusicny.org.

Members of the musical group the Koliadnyky (here, on the barricades in Kyiv in Feb. of 2014) are part of “Winter Light,” at La MaMa on Dec. 27 & 28.   Photo by Maksym Kudymets

Members of the musical group the Koliadnyky (here, on the barricades in Kyiv in Feb. of 2014) are part of “Winter Light,” at La MaMa on Dec. 27 & 28. Photo by Maksym Kudymets

WINTER LIGHT: SONGS, MUSIC & RITUALS FROM THE CARPATHIANS
This world music theater event begins on Dec. 27, with “Koliada” — a winter ritual that predates (and now coincides with) Christmas. Its songs are performed by the Koliadnyky, an ensemble of singers from Kryvorivnia (Ukraine). Their instruments include the trembita (a Carpathian mountain horn made of hollowed pine tree that has been struck by lightning and wrapped in birch bark), the duda (a bag pipe made from a goat), the tsymbaly (a hammer dulcimer) and hand-made Carpathian flutes. The following day, Yara Arts Group presents their adaptation of an allegorical folk Christmas opera created during the 1768-74 Russo-Turkish War, intercut with scenes by counterculture writer Serhiy Zhadan that address the current crisis in Ukraine.

At 3 p.m. & 8 p.m. on Sat., Dec. 27. At 2 p.m. on Sun., Dec. 28. At La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theater (66 W. Fourth St., btw. Bowery & Second Ave.). For tickets ($25, $20 for students/seniors), call 866-811-4111 or visit lamama.org. Also visit Yara Arts Group, at brama.com/yara.

Love hurts: Joey Arias as Joan and Chris March as Christina, in the domestic disturbance that is “Christmas With The Crawfords.”   Photo by Steven Menendez

Love hurts: Joey Arias as Joan and Chris March as Christina, in the domestic disturbance that is “Christmas With The Crawfords.” Photo by Steven Menendez

CHRISTMAS WITH THE CRAWFORDS
No matter how tense things get in your own home during the holidays, it probably won’t come close to the dangerous current of shattered dreams and seething rage flowing through the glamorous Brentwood mansion occupied by Joan Crawford’s barely functional faux-family. All the fast-fading star wants for Christmas 1944 is to be saved from the humiliation of auditioning for a big film role. She’s pinning her hopes on a public relations coup, in the form of a live radio broadcast hosted by powerful gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. It’s a plot as flimsy as the lesser pictures Crawford despises — but a fantastic device for this increasingly absurd collection of celebrity cameos and literal/figurative swipes at adopted daughter Christina (a budding author who’s cataloguing every indignity in an ominous little diary).

A slapstick melting pot of high anxiety, low comedy and fabulous production numbers, “Christmas With The Crawfords” is a variety show that’s gone off its meds and into the darkest recesses of pain, shame, and Hollywood nerdcore references. Not seen in these parts for 12 long years, this triumphant return benefits from a trio of stellar drag performances. Joey Arias’ Crawford, desperate to be loved but prone to violent outbursts, is the show’s immoral core — while Chris March’s corpulent Christina is a sympathetic punching bag who’s learned a little something about passive aggressiveness from her Mommie Dearest. Sherry Vine’s lilting, whiny, spot-on Baby Jane-era Bette Davis steals the show — and the cavalcade of guest starts (who all think they’ve arrived at Gary Cooper’s party) bring sass and charm to their tuneful portrayals of Judy Garland, Liberace, Gloria Swanson and the Andrew Sisters. It’s a heavenly slice of personal hell.

At 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 18 & 23 | 8 p.m. on Dec. 19, 20, 26, 27 | 7 p.m. on Dec. 21. At Abrons Art Center (466 Grand St., at Pitt St.). For tickets ($45), call 212-352-3101 or visit abronsartscenter.org.

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