The Holiday Spirit Hits the Stage in Santa Barbara

Winter Performing Arts Events Abound

'A Christmas Carol' | Credit: Zach Mendez

Santa Barbara certainly won’t have a “white” Christmas, but that doesn’t mean locals and visitors alike can’t enjoy holiday festivities — including a variety of lively offerings from the performing arts community. Don your gay apparel and experience music, dance, and theater that celebrates the season with classic holiday fare and Santa Barbara traditions.

State Street Ballet’s Nutcracker | Credit: Andre Yee

For those who crave traditional holiday stories, Santa Barbara’s theater and ballet companies will mount productions of A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker. Ensemble Theatre Company presents Charles Dickens’s beloved tale of Christmastide hauntings in Patrick Barlow’s adaptation for the stage. Through December 18, the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future take the stage at the New Vic in a show of comedy, drama, music, and theater magic (including puppetry!). Meanwhile, in the magical kingdom of the nutcracker, Clara and her prince dance in the land of the sweets. There are several opportunities to catch The Nutcracker this season, including shows from Santa Barbara Festival Ballet (The Arlington Theatre, Dec. 10-11), and from State Street Ballet (The Granada Theatre, Dec. 17-18). S.B. Festival Ballet’s cast features guest artists Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco (principal dancers at San Francisco Ballet), and Alexandra Hutchinson and Kouadio Davis (principal dancers from Dance Theater of Harlem), along with student dancers. Elise Unruh conducts an orchestra of local and regional professional musicians. The State Street Ballet production features the Opera San Luis Obispo Grand Orchestra, along with State Street Ballet Academy students dancing with the company’s professional dancers.

Other Santa Barbara traditions include the Christmas Revels and An Irish Christmas, both at the Lobero Theatre. This is the 15th year of the Christmas Revels, the singing and dancing theatrical extravaganza that celebrates winter rituals from around the world. This season’s show is A Scottish Celebration of the Winter Solstice (expect bagpipes!). The Revels bring audiences back to the 18th century to see a rich gathering of clans in the highlands of Scotland for a rousing celebration of winter holidays (Dec. 17-18).

The following week, “travel” across the narrow strip of ocean between the British Isles to be enchanted by An Irish Christmas, presented by Kerry Irish productions. Get ready for Irish music and traditions, including a cast of Irish dancers from the likes of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, who celebrate along with singers from the Kerry Voice Squad and musicians from the Kerry Traditional Orchestra (Dec. 23).  


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Musical experiences are abundant throughout the season, including the fifth annual Winter Music Showcase (presented by the Grace Fisher Foundation) and the Hallelujah Project. The Winter Music Showcasebrings Santa Barbara’s talented singers, dancers, and musicians to the stage for a diverse mix of holiday cheer. The program includes the Santa Barbara Folk Orchestra, Jackson Gillies, Will Breman, and the Westmont Chamber singers (The Granada Theatre, Dec. 9). 

A Scottish Celebration of the Winter Solstice | Credit: David Bazemore

For fans of the Santa Barbara Choral Society, don’t miss The Hallelujah Project 8, featuring young singers from the Music Academy’s SING! program. The program of seasonal delights from Bach to Irving Berlin, and the orchestrated version of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, is a crowd-pleaser for all ages (The Lobero Theatre, Dec. 10-11). 

For something a little louder, check out the SOhO winter lineup of acts for rockin’ around the Christmas tree. The Chris Shiflett Band will have their Hometown Holiday Hoedown on December 15, featuring special guests (and local talent) Nerf Herder and Logan Livermore. And don’t forget the annual holiday sweater party with The Molly Ringwald Project and Green Flag Summer on December 17.

Finally, count down to the new year in an evening with the Santa Barbara Symphony. This end-of-year program includes favorite scores from the Beatles to Broadway. All your New Year’s Eve necessities, such as champagne, party hats, noisemakers, and an “Auld Lang Syne” sing-along, are included in the festivities. Bob Bernhardt hosts and conducts, featuring guest artist soprano Mela Sarajane Dailey. This concert is on December 31 from 8:30-10 p.m. at the Granada, so you’ll be able to ring in the New Year (or have an early bedtime!) post-show. 

The Santa Barbara theater district is bustling with cheer this holiday season. May these concerts and theatrical presentations make your days merry and bright! 

State Street Ballet’s Nutcracker | Credit: Zach Mendez

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