What would the holidays be without The Nutcracker? San Francisco Ballet presents the granddaddy of them all with one of the most elegant and sumptuous renditions of the Yuletide classic around. In fact, the 89-year-old ballet company actually pioneered the tradition of presenting the Tchaikovsky ballet in the U.S. around Christmastime with then-director William Christensen’s 1944 production–the first fully staged Nutcracker to be performed in the U.S.
San Francisco Ballet continues this legacy with nods to the original and updates to the classic, including a first-of-its-kind sensory-friendly performance of its Nutcracker on Wednesday, Dec. 21 with special accommodations for neurodiverse audiences and small children. Audience etiquette expectations will be relaxed to allow for talking, vocalizing and movement during the performance so that audience members of all ages, abilities and sensory sensitivities can enjoy the show in a shame- and shush-free environment with their caretakers.
If you’re looking to stick around the East Bay for your merrymaking, Oakland Ballet puts on its own version of The Nutcracker set in Edwardian Vienna with live music by the Oakland Symphony and accompaniment by the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir Dec. 17 to 18 at the Paramount Theatre.
Another Nutcracker option—which supports scholarships for local kids to learn ballet—is with the San Francisco Youth Ballet Academy. Now in its 21st season, the professional production is performed entirely by student dancers. The four shows at the Chinese American International School (formerly Mercy High School) typically sell out, so get your tickets soon for one of the four performances: Saturday, Dec. 3, at 1 p.m. or 5 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 4, at 1 p.m. or 5 p.m.
–Christina Campodonico and Julie Zigoris
The Nutcracker is far from the only Christmas-themed show playing this month. Keep reading for more traditional performances and contemporary stage productions throughout the Bay Area.
Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale of a reformed miserly banker returns to A.C.T. in-person with a multigenerational cast of performers, colorful period costumes and, of course, ghosts of Christmases past! A.C.T. will also host its first sensory friendly performance of A Christmas Carol on Dec. 18, so that neurodiverse audiences or those with sensory sensitivities can enjoy the show in a relaxed environment with looser audience etiquette rules. (CJC)
If you’ve heard enough Nutcracker Suites to last a lifetime, head to SFJAZZ for four days of Christmas music remixed. Jazz Mafia’s Holiday Heist holds down the series with a holiday songbook spanning from James Brown to Vince Guaraldi—the Bay Area jazz legend who composed songs for Charles Schultz’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. And pianist Adam Shulman plays a rendition of the iconic score from the classic Peanuts special on Dec. 3. (CJC)
🗓 Dec. 3, 11, 17 & 24
📍 Various Locations
See the world’s first openly gay chorus at their beloved annual tradition—a holiday spectacular complete with singing, dancing and fabulous costumes. The musical medley includes holiday classics, surprises … and a little Cher. The group performs at four venues across the Bay Area in December, including a Christmas Eve performance at the Castro Theatre. (JZ)
It’s not “Love Actually,” nor strictly a Christmastime production, but this musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “As You Like It” will likely put you in a merry mood with its suite of joyful tunes and love stories. (CJC)
Grammy award-winning Hawaiian artist Kalani Pe'a brings the spirit of aloha with a seasonal twist to Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage. The specialist in “Hawaiian contemporary soul” showcases his dynamic vocal range and stage presence by performing songs from his homeland infused with elements of R&B and classical influences. (CJC)
🗓 Dec. 4-18
📍 Marine's Memorial Theater
Just in time for the holidays, San Francisco’s African-American Shakespeare Company brings a delightful and magical production of Cinderella to life. It's a heartwarming retelling of the traditional fairytale that has all the glitz and glamour, merriment and charm of the original, but adds a soulful twist. (MM)
Colors of Christmas returns to the San Francisco Symphony with a lineup of legendary R&B vocalists like Peabo Bryson, Jody Watley and Ruben Studdard. Each singer will perform a set of their most soulful hits alongside some traditional holiday tunes, all under the baton of Gail Deadrick. (MM)
🗓 Dec. 9-18
📍 Various Locations
Dispel the darkness of winter and fight for democracy in Ukraine with the robust choral sounds of Oakland-based vocal ensemble, Kitka. The all-women’s group performs a selection of seasonal and spiritual music from Eastern Europe, this year highlighting secular and sacred Ukrainian songs. Kitka makes stops in Belvedere, Menlo Park, Oakland and lastly San Francisco on Dec. 18. For those who can’t join in person, Kitka will hold a donation-based virtual singing workshop on Dec. 3 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Funds raised through the concert series will support a variety of organizations addressing the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. (CJC)
🗓 Dec. 9-23
📍 Alcazar Theatre
Kat Robichaud, a one-time contestant on The Voice, puts on a rollicking variety show packed with aerials, drag, gremlins, Star Wars references and more. A rotating cast of eccentric performers turn through the stage, but there are sure to be plenty of spectacles and sparkles every show. (CJC)
🗓 Through Dec. 11
📍 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
The story of The Velveteen Rabbit turned 100 this year, and ODC/Dance’s take on the cherished children’s tale returns ready to warm the hearts of children and parents alike. ODC’s dancers dress up in bunny suits and colorful costumes to enthrall audiences with this timeless classic of a stuffed rabbit that is brought to life by the love of its owner. (CJC)
🗓 Through Dec. 24
📍 Various Locations
SMUIN Contemporary Ballet’s take on the holidays includes tap dancing with an Irish twist, modern dances to classic Christmas songs, ballet duets to hymns and carols and so much more. Enjoy this array of dance treats at one of SMUIN’s 15 roving shows, stopping in Mountain View, then Carmel and finally San Francisco at the tail end of the run this December.
SMUIN also celebrates San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ community on Dec. 20 with The Christmas Ballet LGBTQ+ Night, a one-night-only performance benefiting Project Open Hand, a nonprofit founded in 1985 to feed people living with HIV/AIDS. (CJC)
🗓 Through Dec. 30
📍 Orpheum Theatre
The kiddos are sure to love this magical musical based on Disney’s popular animated film, Frozen. Anna, Elsa and the movie’s beloved cast of characters swirl and sing through a wintery wonderland that brings the film’s songs and some new ones to life. (CJC)
Julie Zigoris and Meaghan Mitchell contributed additional reporting for this story.
Christina Campodonico can be reached at email@example.com