Celebrate the 2021 Holiday Season with a Festive, IRL Show

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Editor’s Note: Please be sure to check with each theater prior to booking to familiarize yourself with their COVID-related policies. Some require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test prior to entry and all require masks regardless of vaccination status.

Here’s an idea for the holidays in Chicago . . . yes, it really is time to plan for them. Start loading up the calendar with shows that fill your heart with holiday spirit. Catching a play, ballet or musical performance is an unforgettable experience for kids—and this season’s Christmas shows in Chicago are real memory creators. Start a new family tradition and check out our picks for the top kid-friendly holiday shows and plays in and around Chicago.

This article is sponsored by Polar Express—the magic of THE POLAR EXPRESS Train Ride returns to Chicago Union Station this holiday season. Tickets are on sale now!

THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride

THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride is a magical re-creation of the classic children’s story led by a cast of talented actors on board a real train. Have your golden tickets ready for the Conductor! Passengers are served hot chocolate and Walkers Shortbread by dancing chefs, enjoy a reading of the classic book by Chris Van Allsburg, and receive the First Gift of Christmas after Santa boards the train to greet families. Performers engage passengers in caroling and fun holiday activities on the heartwarming trip back to the station.

Dec. 3-Jan. 1; Chicago Union Station, 225 S. Canal St., Loop; More details

Magic Immersive

From the innovators behind Immersive Van Gogh, comes an exhilarating magic experience just in time to ignite the holiday season. Lighthouse Immersive and the famed British illusionist Jamie Allan invite audiences into a world of intrigue, mystery and wonder with Magic Immersive. Consisting of a series of rooms, stages and interactive displays, Magic Immersive transports visitors to different eras in time, revealing the evolution of magic acts throughout history and the secrets of the world's greatest magic performers. 

Dec. 3-Jan. 2; Museum of Broadcast Communications, 360 N State St, Loop; More details

The Elf On the Shelf: A Christmas Musical 

The ‘Elf on the Shelf’ pops into homes and sets the scene for mischief every holiday season. This year, catch him on stage in The Elf on the Shelf: The Musical, a show that transports audiences to the North Pole to learn the story behind the magically mischievous elf.

Dec. 19; Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont; More details.

photo: Joffrey Ballet

Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker

The Joffrey Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker is a beloved holiday tradition for many families, and thankfully, Christopher Wheeldon's reimagined classic returns to the IRL stage for the 2021 holidays. Follow young Marie and the Nutcracker Prince on a Christmas Eve journey through the 1893 World's Fair, a dazzling spectacle of sights, sounds and enchantment. This annual holiday tradition celebrates both the magic of the season and the rich cultural heritage of Chicago.

Dec. 4-26; Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Loop; More details

Songs of the Season with Chicago Children's Choir

This decades-old annual tradition returns to celebrate the many ways people commemorate the holidays through a mix of timeless seasonal favorites from cultures around the world. In celebration of the Choir’s 65th anniversary, there will be a special alumni reunion with performances by CCC’s world-renowned Voice of Chicago ensemble, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Choir, and a consortium of Choir alums. 

Dec. 18; Epiphany Center for the Arts, 201 S. Ashland Ave., Hyde Park; More details

This article is sponsored by Polar Express—the magic of THE POLAR EXPRESS Train Ride returns to Chicago Union Station this holiday season. Tickets are on sale now!

photo: Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil's 'Twas the Night Before...

Cirque du Soleil invites families to the Chicago Theatre, where a world of delight and whimsy awaits families looking for a bit of over-the-top holiday fun. ‘Twas the Night Before… is Cirque du Soleil's first-ever Christmas show, offering a new take on the classic children's poem. The show highlights the wonders of sharing and friendship with an international cast of characters that thrill with every daring move.

Nov. 26-Dec. 5; Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St., Loop; More details

Hershel And The Hanukkah Goblins

Strawdog Theatre Company at Rivendell Theatre presents a Hanukkah show for all ages. When a traveling troupe of actors comes to town only to find no one celebrating Hanukkah, they try to figure out a way to save the Hanukkah spirit STAT. In this adaptation of the Caldecott Honor-winning book, Strawdog Theater Company, one of Chicago's oldest ensemble theater companies, brings the cherished story to life with music, puppets, and a heavy dose of theater magic. 

Nov. 20-Dec. 12.; Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge Rd., Edgewater; More details.

photo: Studebaker Theatre

Art Deco Nutcracker

Set in 1920s America, Alexei Kremnev's The Art Deco Nutcracker is an upbeat yet traditional take on the much-loved holiday favorite and guaranteed entertainment for all. This year's production features award-winning rhythmic dangers, stunning set designs and added scenes and characters. Familiar favorites The Sugar Plum Fairy, Mother Ginger and the Nutcracker Prince will all be on stage to tell the tale.

Dec. 4, The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Lakeview; Event details.

The Snow Queen

Chicago's acclaimed House Theatre kicks off its 2021-22 season with a brand-new adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's winter tale, The Snow Queen. Written by Artistic Director Lanise Antoine Shelley, the show also features magic by Dennis Watkins and puppets by Jesse Mooney-Bullock. At the center of the show is a strong-willed heroine who seeks to heal the Earth and make amends for the pain she has woven into her icy kingdom. 

Nov. 12-Jan. 2; 1543 W. Division St., West Town; More details

photo: Goodman Theatre

A Christmas Carol

The Goodman Theatre's production of the holiday classic serves up a heavy dose of cheer to enliven even the grouchiest of Scrooges. There is something about this timeless story, combined with the world-class actors of The Goodman, that keeps the "bah-humbugs" away. 2021 marks the Goodman's 44th annual production of this timeless tale of kindness and compassion.

Nov. 20-Dec. 31; Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Loop; More details

This article is sponsored by Polar Express—the magic of THE POLAR EXPRESS Train Ride returns to Chicago Union Station this holiday season. Tickets are on sale now!

Holiday Highlights Performance by Tempel Lipizzans

Bundle up and join Tempel Lipizzans for festive holiday spirit in their sprawling indoor arena. Enjoy four segments all set to classical music including The Solo, The Airs Above the Ground, The Long Rein, and The Quadrille. Whether you're looking for something festive to do with the family or unique gift ideas, an afternoon with Tempel Lipizzans is the perfect option.

Dec. 4 & Dec. 11; The Tempel Lipizzans, 17000 W Wadsworth Rd, Old Mill Creek; More details

photo: American Blues Theater

It's a Wonderful Life

George Bailey can't see the light at the end of the tunnel: Only a miracle—or an angel from above —can save him from despair. Featuring original music and classic holiday carols, this critically acclaimed holiday favorite showcases the Frank Capra classic in a 1940s radio broadcast tradition. Tweens and teens will enjoy the interactive nature of the show.

Nov. 26-Dec. 31; Victory Gardens Theater; 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Lincoln Park, More details.

photo: Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Home Alone in Concert

Home Alone quickly earned its place as an iconic holiday movie that's a go-to favorite for families across the globe. We all fell in love with 8-year-old Kevin McCallister as he worked to defend his suburban Chicago home against two bungling thieves. Now, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will perform John William's charming and delightful score from this comedy classic. Hilarious and heart-warming, Home Alone is holiday fun for the entire family!

Nov. 26-28; Chicago Symphony Orchestra; 220 S. Michigan Ave., Loop; More details

Cinderella

Calling all Princesses and Princes, Kings and Queens from across Chicagoland: You’re invited to a grand ball at Aurora's Art Deco Paramount Theatre. Cinderella, the classic musical from the genius minds of Rodgers and Hammerstein, is an enchanting story that makes for a fairy-tale of a family holiday theater date. The theatre's historic Grand Gallery will be decked out for the season with a giant two-story, fully-decorated Christmas tree and all the regal trimmings, too. 

Nov. 10-Jan. 9; Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora; More details

photo: PlayMakers Laboratory

That's Weird, Grandma: Comes Home for the Holidays

PlayMakers Laboratory is welcoming back live audiences with That's Weird, Grandma: Comes Home for the Holidays. That's Weird Grandma features adaptations written during PlayMakers Laboratory's creative writing residencies in Chicago elementary schools. PML's talented actors, comedians and musicians bring the stories to life as raucous sketches, songs and movement pieces.

Dec. 10-Dec. 19; Neo-Futurist Theater, 5153 N. Ashland Ave, Andersonville; More details

A Recipe for Disaster by Rick Bayless

Not necessarily a holiday show, but still a fun way to squeeze in a fun date night during the shopping season.

Conceived by Rick Bayless and Windy City Playhouse's artistic team, A Recipe for Disaster is a live experience that combines immersive theater, food and farce. Guests are invited inside the restaurant to join in for "influencer night." The actors will not touch or talk to the audience directly, allowing you to feel like a fly on the wall as the hilarity unfolds around you. Admission includes 6 bite-sized tastings by Chef Rick Bayless, one cocktail sampling from Lanie Bayless and two wine pairings. 

Shows through Dec. 31; Petterino's, 150 N. Dearborn St., Loop; More details.

photo: Chicago Children's Theatre

The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party

Settle in for tea with woodland friends Jeremy Fisher, Simpkin the Cat, Peter Rabbit, and Tom Kitten! This interactive trunk and puppet show, complete with original music and delightful storytellers, is made for little ones ages 2-6 and their families. Post-show, kids are invited onstage to play with the puppets and take pictures before indulging in a festive spread of chocolate milk and cookies in the theater's lobby.  

Nov. 20-Dec. 24; The Station, 100 S. Racine St., West Loop; More details.

A Black Ensemble Holiday Spectacular

Music-loving families will enjoy the holiday classics performed by members of the acclaimed Black Ensemble Theater in this cabaret-style spectacular. Soak in all your favorite holiday tunes in a potpourri of musical genres, including jazz, gospel, pop, rock, soul, and blues, in a show that guarantees 'to lift your spirits and soothe your soul.'

Dec. 11-19; Black Ensemble Theatre, 4450 N. Clark St., Uptown; More details

photo: Art on theMART

The Nutcracker on Art on theMART

An animated digital display of The Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker will be shown as part of Art on theMART, the largest digital art projection in the world. The presentation is set to the music of Tchaikovsky’s beloved score and runs nightly on theMART’s 2.5-acre river-façade.

Nov. 25-Dec. 30; Merchandise Mart, 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza, River North; More details

Dickens' Hat 

When a pair of thieves steal Charles Dickens' hat from a tiny Victorian boutique, a young shop clerk and her friend set off to reclaim it, reminding everyone along the way that "Beneath our hats, we are all the same." Filled with original music and 'a host of colorful characters, constables and carolers' is an upbeat holiday show for the whole fam. 

Nov. 26-Jan. 2. North Shore Center for Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; More details

This article is sponsored by Polar Express—the magic of THE POLAR EXPRESS Train Ride returns to Chicago Union Station this holiday season. Tickets are on sale now!

photo: Marc Monaghan

The Nutcracker at Hyde Park School of Dance

Hyde Park School of Dance brings together fans of ballet, modern and hip hop with the return of live performances in its annual presentation of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker

Dec. 10-12; Mandel Hall on the University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th St., Hyde Park; More details

Becoming Santa Clause

Chicago Opera Theater, producer of contemporary and re-imagined opera, is premiering family friendly Becoming Santa Claus. During the 90-minute performance, a bratty elf Prince learns the meaning of family, love and the true spirit of gift-giving. 

Dec. 11, 17 & 19; Studebaker Theatre, 410 S. Michigan Ave., Loop; More details

photo: The Young People's Theatre of Chicago

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical

The Young People's Theatre of Chicago is hosting their inaugural production of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical. Knuffle Bunny tells the tale of a beleaguered dad who accidentally leaves his toddler's favorite stuffed bunny at the laundromat. In his best-selling book, Mo Willems explores the loving and complex bond between parent and child while celebrating the complexity of family life in the big city. 

Dec. 2-19; The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2557 N. Lincoln Ave., Lincoln Park; More details

Merry, Merry Chicago

Listen to the celebrated songs of the season performed by the best musicians in the city: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Arrangements both new and cherished will have you humming and singing along. Be ready for a visit from the man in red, too! 

Dec. 17-Dec. 23; Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave., Loop; More details
 

— Amy Bizzarri

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