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The gift of theater 

There's more to holiday-time entertainment than Hallmark Channel movies and antique animated specials. Instead of watching another Christmas movie marathon, why not get out of the house and see a holiday-themed play? The Rochester theater calendar is full of them this month, from old favorites like "A Christmas Carol" and "It's A Wonderful Life" to kid-pleasing shows (some of them starring actual kids) and other diversions. Sure, theater tickets cost more than a movie, and the kids will probably roll their eyes when you suggest it. But a first trip to a theater, seeing real people perform in real time, can still be a transformative experience — a gift that can keep giving.

Below is a sampling of the holiday-themed shows playing in December on Rochester stages. If we missed a show you think should be included please post it to the comments section of this article at rochestercitynewspaper.com.

"A Christmas Carol"

Through December 28, show times vary. Geva Theatre, 75 Woodbury Blvd. $25-$70. 232-4382, gevatheatre.org.

"Don't mess with tradition!" — as a ghost probably never said to Ebenezer Scrooge. Geva's lavish, lovely, and ever-popular presentation of the Charles Dickens classic, adapted by Mark Cuddy and with songs by Gregg Coffin, really needs no introduction, as they say. It's a longstanding local tradition, up there with Rochester City Ballet's "Nutcracker" as a classy and entertaining holiday family experience. Guy Paul returns to Geva to play Scrooge.

"Sister Strikes Again! Late Nite Catechism 2"

Through December 15. Geva Theatre Nextstage, 75 Woodbury Blvd. $35-$40. 232-4382, gevatheatre.org.

This popular one-nun presentation has been playing at Geva's Nextstage since last month, but you'll have a couple more weeks to catch Colleen Moore's excellent performance as "Sister" — and to learn about the road to eternal salvation, which seems appropriate this time of year.

"Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge"

December 6-14. Black Sheep Theatre at Village Gate, 274 N. Goodman St. 7:30 p.m. $16-$20. 861-4816, blacksheeptheatre.org.

If you stuffed yourself on too much of Scrooge's Christmas goose, this play may be the dose of holiday bicarb you need. It's written by the great Christopher Durang, which guarantees it will be hilarious, offensive, and very, very wrong. Written in 2002, it's "A Christmas Carol" as seen through the eyes of a stressed-out Mrs. Cratchit (and who would not be anxious, with 21 children in the root cellar?). Guest appearances by Ebenezer Scrooge, Oliver Twist, Little Nell, and a plastic fish. Perhaps not for the entire family.

"Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas"

December 10-15, show times vary. Rochester Broadway Theatre League, Auditorium Center, 885 E. Main St. $32.50-$67.50, 222-5000, rbtl.org.

It wasn't enough to turn everybody's favorite childhood Christmas book into everybody's favorite childhood Christmas special — they had to go and turn it into a big Broadway musical. Dr. Seuss ain't Disney, but no doubt many young viewers who like the TV version will be dazzled by the lavish and colorful stage show, even without Boris Karloff. And it's got to be better than that Jim Carrey movie.

"It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play"

December 13-22. Blackfriars Theatre, 795 E. Main St. 8 p.m. $28.50-$36.50, bftix.org.

"It's A Wonderful Life"

December 13-15. Presented by A Magical Journey Thru Stages, Auditorium Center, third floor, 875 E. Main St. 7:30 p.m. $13. 975-7173, mjtstages.com.

Teacher says that every time a bell rings, some poor schnook is watching this Frank Capra holiday perennial. I myself have never found "It's a Wonderful Life" all that wonderful; on the other hand, if it is done as a reading in the style of a 1940's radio show (sound effects, period costumes, and all) and performed by a cast of longtime Rochester theater pros — which is how Blackfriars approaches the material — I could be convinced. I also like the idea of it performed by a youthful, unjaded cast of middle- and high-schoolers, which may turn sentiment into drama. If you're a "Wonderful Life" fan, try them both!

"Parfumerie"

December 13-21. Presented by Screen Plays, MuCCC, 142 Atlantic Ave. $15-$20. muccc.org.

Here's another screenplay on stage, or at least a play that was the source for several screenplays ("The Shop Around the Corner," "You've Got Mail") and the Broadway musical "She Loves Me." Miklos Laszlo's 1930's comedy about bickering lovers who work in a fancy Budapest cosmetics shop is by all accounts as amusing and romantic as its descendants — and its ending does take place at Christmas. A nice Christmas date for the theatrically minded.

"The Santaland Diaries"

December 14-22. Blackfriars Theatre, 795 E. Main St. $28.50-$36.50. 454-1260, bftix.org.

Holiday Snark is an entertainment category all its own, and I think "The Santaland Diaries" must be its founding title. Ever since David Sedaris's dyspeptic account of his experiences as a Macy's Christmas elf named Crumpet was first broadcast on NPR way back in the first Clinton administration, it has become a holiday classic itself, not least at Blackfriars Theatre, which brings back David Jason Kyle as Crumpet.

"Good Rockin' Christmas"

December 14-27. Downstairs Cabaret Theater, 3450 Winton Place. $23-$33. 325-4370, downstairscabaret.org.

Downstairs Cabaret's tribute to Sun Records artists like Elvis and Carl Perkins, "Good Rockin' Tonight," gets some holiday spirit. The show includes highlights of the original show along with good rockin' Christmas favorites: "Blue Christmas," "Jingle Bell Rock," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Run, Rudolph, Run," and "Merry Christmas, Baby." Who knew there were so many of them?

"The Calamari Sisters: Feast of the Seven Fishes"

December 20-31. RAPA's East End Theatre, 727 E. Main St. Show times vary. $25-$46. 325-3366, rapatheatre.org.

The singing, dancing, sautéing sisters return to RAPA with nonstop, holiday-themed comedy and music, including a couple of New Year's Eve shows.

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