Variations on a theme: Creating new holiday traditions

The Twin Cities offer a variety of holiday-themed shows with surprising twists, from an action-packed Christmas musical to an improv show about your family’s dirty secrets.

by Callie Sacarelos

Watching winter holiday specials, like “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” on TV or making the annual outing to the Guthrie Theater to see “A Christmas Carol” are time-honored traditions.

But while doing the same thing year after year is sentimental and sweet, it can also get old.

A&E has selected a few alternative holiday shows for new holiday traditions. They drift far enough away from Tiny Tim and Santa Claus to feel fresh and intriguing but still include enough Christmas tradition to keep you from feeling like a total Scrooge.


What: “A Very Die Hard Christmas”
When: 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 9 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 6-22
Where: Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
Cost: $13 in advance, $15 day of show

The original “Die Hard” movie has all the tropes of a classic Christmas movie. At the heart of the action-packed thriller is a man trying to get home to his family for the holidays — instead, he gets stuck overcoming obstacles and fighting villains to save Christmas.

Josh Carson, the writer and star of “A Very Die Hard Christmas,” said he gets into serious debates every year about whether “Die Hard” should be considered a Christmas classic. Carson said he wrote the play to “put the argument to bed for the rest of eternity.”

To beef up the Christmas element, the show features characters from “Die Hard” recast as popular Christmas icons like the snowman and Hermey the Elf in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”  and holiday crooner Bing Crosby. “A Very Die Hard Christmas” is also a musical, featuring a dozen classic Christmas songs.

 The production takes up every inch of the tiny BLB space — sometimes spilling out onto Lake Street — and uses as many special effects as the low-budget theater can handle. If you still don’t agree after seeing the show that “Die Hard” deserves a place between “Home Alone” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” you probably “need to reevaluate your life,” Carson said.


What: “Family Dinner”
When: 8 p.m. Saturdays, Nov. 2 – Dec. 28
Where: HUGE Improv Theater, 3037 S. Lyndale Ave., Minneapolis
Cost: $10

Spending the holidays with family is awkward and stressful for a lot of people, as proven by the implementation of Dranksgiving. Holidays also serve as opportune times to break big secrets face to face, especially if the family only gets together a few times a year.

In “Family Dinner,” each actor plays a family member who has a secret they haven’t shared with anyone. Audience members suggest secrets before the show and the actors don’t find out what their personal secret is until moments before they go on stage.

Butch Roy, the executive director of HUGE Improv Theater, said the show is a form of improvised realism, which means he’s looking for suggestions for secrets that real people would have, rather than those including aliens and time travel.

When it comes to improv theater, Roy said there’s a “shocking” number of audience suggestions revolving around poop and incest.

“It might seem funny to write that the mother and father characters find out they’re actually brother and sister,” he said. “But no one really wants to see that played out on stage.”

Some of the suggestions stay true to improv, while others lend touching moments to the show.

So look to your own family for inspiration and get your tickets in advance, because this year the shows have been selling out.


What: “A Christmas Pudding”
When: Nov. 29 – Dec. 29, days and times vary
Where: Open Window Theatre, 1313 Chestnut Ave. Suite #102, Minneapolis
Cost: Student $18, Adults $24

If you’re looking for a family-friendly show with traditional Christmas music, but don’t want the sugar-coated holiday sap, “A Christmas Pudding” is your best bet.

Director Greta Grosch has an extensive background in sketch comedy. She wrote the “Church Basement Ladies” play series and is a prominent Twin Cities comic actress.

“The most important thing was for me to tell the producer that my background is faster, louder, funnier,” she said. “That’s what I’ve been taught my whole life. You don’t want the audience to feel like they’re coming to another sentimental Christmas show.”

To combat that possibility, the play mixes 17 different Christmas carols with contemporary and classic text. Four actors play all the roles and sing all the parts, sometimes while on roller-skates or shaking tambourines.

The show does have slower moments, like when the spotlight shines on an actress while she sings “What Child is This?” Grosch said the moment comes off as tender and lovely because it’s special, rather than “yet another moment in a long evening of Christmas cheer.”


What: “A Tuna Christmas”
When: 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5-28
Where: Cabaret Theater at Camp Bar, 490 N. Robert St., St. Paul
Cost: $29.50

It’s the night before Christmas, and the entire town of Tuna, Texas is preparing for the annual yard display contest. But a menacing phantom is running around town, destroying reindeer, Santa and snowman decorations.

Because residents put their identities and reputations on the line for the contest, the vandalism causes town-wide hysteria.

”A Tuna Christmas” is a slapstick comedy riot, with two actors playing 24 characters, including a bed-wetting sheriff, a used weapon store owner, a crew of mischievous old ladies and a disc-jockey for OKKK radio. Actors Scott Jorgenson and Charles Hubbell have done the show together for the last three years. Hubbell said their lifelong friendship complements their onstage chemistry.

Tuna, Texas is the focal point of a series of plays about the fictional small town. But Hubbell said Christmas Tuna is arguably the best Tuna.