It may seem as if there are so many holiday extravaganzas playing Detroit area theaters over the holiday season, there must be a candy cane and snowflake-bedecked factory somewhere, where these shows are concocted. Well — yes, more or less.
Meet David King. He’s the producer behind “Christmas Wonderland Holiday Spectacular” due in at the Fisher Theater Dec. 12-17, and the British-based impresario laughs heartily when asked if he couldn’t have come up with one more word for that show title.
“We have every word in there,” King insisted.
The show brings high-kicking chorus girls, elves, ice skaters doing balletic pas de deux, Santa Claus, and vocalists who sing pop and religious classics of the season, including “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Let it Snow,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “O Holy Night” and many more.
King dreams up the shows from his headquarters in Britain, then hires and rehearses companies around the world — his English choreographers rehearse the U.S. companies in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Three companies cross the United States with “Christmas Wonderland Holiday Spectacular,” and other ones are going to Japan and Romania (where “Santa Claus” will explain some of the Christmas customs to the audience, in Romanian).
A previous Christmas show that King produced did well in China, of all places.
“It was amazing,” he said. “They don’t speak English at all, and they don’t celebrate Christmas,” But the show did a six week tour and made headlines. The British theaters, meanwhile, are packed over the holidays with what they call “panto” (for pantomime) shows, a whole subculture unto itself consisting of guest celebrities helping to enact exaggerated, comic fairy tales. Ironically, because of holiday “panto,” there’s no room for King’s Christmas shows in his homeland.
Another holiday tradition here in the States are the touring “Nutcracker” shows, featuring Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet based upon the ancient folk tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann set at Christmastime, about a young girl, Clara, and her toy nutcracker that comes to life as a prince who defeats the Mouse King.
The Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker,” which runs for three performances at the Fox Theatre on Dec. 17, is, as you’d expect, very Russian.
Folk legends Father Christmas and Snow Maiden accompany a troika sleigh; there are life-size Matryoshka Nesting Dolls that open to reveal dancing Moor “dolls;” 200 costumes hand-sewn in Russia; and of course, a corps de ballet of 40 dancers. Among the tweaks the Moscow Ballet has made to Tchaikovsky is, rather than having the foreign dancers perform in “Land of Sweets,” it’s the “Land of Peace and Harmony” where the Prince takes young Maria to see them.
A special treat for Detroiters will be a performance immediately before “The Nutcracker” of “Le Cygne” (“The Swan”) from Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals,” performed by one of the Moscow Ballet’s two principal ballerinas (Svetlana Isakova or Karyna Shatkovskaya), accompanied by 17-year-old violinist, Nohemi M. Perez-Barradas.
Perez-Barradas was chosen by the Moscow Ballet as a “Musical Wunderkind” — a young local musician chosen to perform onstage with them. Perez-Barradas plays violin in the orchestra at Farmington High School, as well as in the Detroit Metropolitan Youth Symphony. She’s never played behind a dancer, and is looking forward to the challenge.
Although “Le Cygne” sounds simple, on the surface, playing it is trickier than it seems.
“It has its own complications technically,” said Perez-Barradas. “What’s important is the phrasing, she says, and “Having it sound beautiful, very graceful — but swans can be very protective, too, so you have to have that, as well.
Susan Whitall is an author and longtime contributor to The Detroit News. Contact her at susanwhitall.com.
More holiday highlights
■Cincinnati Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker” takes over the Detroit Opera House on Saturday and SundayFor these performances of the famed Christmas-themed ballet, the corps de ballet is backed by a live orchestra, the Michigan Opera Theatre Orchestra, performing the lush Tchaikovsky score, including “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Waltz of the Flowers.” It’s a traditional performance, but with some modern technical pizazz. The opera house also will host “family activities” before the matinee performances. 1526 Broadway, Detroit, (313) 237-7464. michiganopera.org.
■“The Wizard of Oz” is in for three shows at the Fox Theatre on Saturday and Sunday. For this stage production of Dorothy’s adventures down the Yellow Brick Road, the special effects include some high-flying action: Think Glinda the Good Witch in a bubble, the King of the Monkeys lording it over all, and the Wicked Witch, of course, must take a high spin on that broom. 2211 Woodward, Detroit. (313) 471-3200. 313presents.com.
■“A Christmas Carol,” now-Dec. 23, Meadow Brook Theatre, 378 Meadow Brook Road, Rochester. (248) 377-3300. mbtheatre.com
■Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo, select weeknights and Sundays, now through Dec. 31. More than five million LED lights will set trees, buildings and animal sculptures aglow throughout the front half of the zoo, 8450 W. 10 Mile, Royal Oak. Prices vary, according to the day and time. Go to ticketstore.detroitzoo.org.
■Wayne County Lightfest, 7651 Merriman Road, Westland. Annual event that showcases 4 miles of holiday lights, starting at Hines Drive. Now through December 31 (Closed Dec. 25). waynecounty.com.
■45th Annual Noel Night, 5-10 p.m. Dec. 2, Midtown Detroit. Horse-drawn carriage rides, holiday shopping and open house (free of charge) at more than 100 participating venues this year are part of the draw for this popular annual fete. The venues that will be open for no charge include the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Michigan Science Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Detroit Historical Museum, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Public Library. Performers include Thornetta Davis, Etienne Charles’ Creole Christmas, the Tartan Terrors, Afro Blue, Cantus, Sidewalk Chalk, The Cactus Blossoms, Les Nubians, and the Rhythm Society Orchestra with Paul King. The traditional sing-a-long led by the Salvation Army will take place at the southwest corner of Woodward and Warren, on Wayne State University’s campus. noelnight.org.
■“Celtic Thunder 2017 Symphony Tour,” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6, Fox Theatre. The five Irish male soloists will perform many of their hit songs, as well as traditional Irish music (yes, the Celtic tin whistle will get a workout) numbers from their “Christmas” and “Classic Christmas” albums, as well as their new “Celtic Thunder Inspirational.” 313presents.com.
■Dave Koz and Friends, 20th Anniversary Christmas tour. 8 p.m. Dec. 6. Sound Board at MotorCity Casino Hotel. The contemporary jazz saxophonist will be joined by pianist David Benoit, trumpeter/flugelhornist Rick Braun, acoustic guitarist Peter White and singer Selina Albright. 2901 Grand River, Detroit. soundboarddetroit.com.
■“Too Hot to Handel,” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16, Detroit Opera House. The performance, subtitled “The Jazz Gospel ‘Messiah,” is a soulful take on Handel’s “Messiah,” the first part of which is about the birth of Jesus. “Too Hot to Handel” is a gospel-jazz-classical hybrid featuring the Rackham Choir, soloists and the Too Hot Orchestra conducted by Suzanne Acton. 1526 Broadway, Detroit, (313) 237-7464. michiganopera.org.
Other holiday shows at the following venues:
Andiamo Celebrity Showroom
7096 E 14 Mile, Warren
(586) 268-3200; andiamoitalia.com/showroom
■The Scintas Holiday Show, Dec. 7-9
■Motor City Symphony Featuring Thornetta Davis, Dec. 10
■Norman Brown’s Joyous Christmas in a Jazzy Kind of Way, starring Bobby Caldwell and featuring Marion Meadows, Dec. 14
■Karen Newman Annual Holiday Show, Dec. 15
Detroit Opera House
1526 Broadway, Detroit
(313) 237-7464; Broadwayindetroit.com
■“An American in Paris,” Saturday-Dec. 10
3011 W. Grand Blvd, Detroit
(313) 872-1000; Broadwayindetroit.com
■Christmas Wonderland Holiday Spectacular, Dec. 12-17
2211 Woodward, Detroit
(313) 471-3200; 313presents.com
■Cirque Dreams Holidaze, Dec. 1-3,
■Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, Dec. 16
■“Elf the Musical,” Dec. 20-23
Little Caesars Arena
2645 Woodward, Detroit.
(313) 471-7000; 313presents.com
■Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Dec. 23
Music Hall Center
350 Madison, Detroit
(313) 887-8500; musichall.org
■Fantasia: “Christmas After Midnight,” 8 p.m. Dec. 2.
■“A Very Electric Christmas,” 4 p.m. Dec. 10.
Saint Andrew’s Hall
431 E Congress, Detroit
(313) 961-8961; saintandrewsdetroit.com.
A Very Country Christmas with Parmalee, LANCO, Lindsay Ell, Russell Dickerson, Olivia Lane and more, Dec. 15
Sound Board at MotorCity Casino Hotel
2901 Grand River, Detroit
■Will Downing’s Soulful Sounds of Christmas featuring Avery Sunshine, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10.
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