New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams had a keen insight on human behavior, and during one holiday season he marveled during one “winter’s midnight” how he and his fellow New Jerseyans “brought branches cut from the green trees to fill our need, and over doorways, about paper Christmas bells covered with tinfoil and fastened by red ribbons we stuck the prongs in the windows” to create a “solace” and “a promise of peace, a fort against the cold.”
As Williams shows, the urge to seek life during the darkest time of the year is a human response — one that reflects a need to join with others to share light, warmth, and energy.
The spirit of that urge is evident in the bounty of attractions and events created by the region’s cultural organizations and artists using greens and light to fill a very human need.
McCarter Theater in Princeton is providing something historical and memorable with this year’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” After 16 seasons, this is the last year of a long-running and long-loved version of Ebenezer Scrooge’s redeeming encounter with three spirits on Christmas Eve. It will be retired to make way for a new production in 2016.
Called a “must see” by the New York Times, this current show was the third in a series of Christmas Carol adaptations that began in 1980. It has a strong pedigree: adaptation by David Thompson, librettist for Kander and Ebb’s “Scottsboro Boys” and adaptor of the current revival of “Chicago”; direction by Michael Unger, who has been directing the winter show since its inception; musical direction by Charles Sundquist, who returns for his 26th production; and choreography by Tony Award winner Rob Ashford.
Broadway veteran Graeme Malcolm returns as Scrooge and joins a cast with Broadway, regional, and international credits. If you missed it, go while you still can. If you saw it before, go to say goodbye.
McCarter Theater, 91 University Place, Princeton. December 10 through 27. $25 to $96.50. 609-258-2787 or www.mccarter.org.
Holiday Jubilee, Crossroads Theater Company. The New Brunswick theater is building a tradition of its own with its sixth “Holiday Jubilee.” Developed by artistic director Marshall Jones III and director Rick Sordelet, this new jubilee follows the holiday gospel choir’s attempt to win a competition. It bursts opens with song on Friday, December 11, and continues through Sunday, December 20. Show times are Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. $30. 7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. 732-545-8100 or www.crossroadstheatrecompany.org.
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, Bucks County Playhouse. Playwright Joe Landry’s inventive treatment turns the famous holiday film into a small ensemble of radio performers who recreate the story, perform commercials, and dance on the radio. Performances run from Friday, December 11, through Sunday, December 27, on Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2 p.m. $29 to $89. 70 South Main Street, New Hope. 215-862-2121 or www.bcptheater.org.
Christmas at Kelsey Theater. The Kelsey Players present its annual “Twas The Night Before Christmas,” based on Clement Moore’s 1822 poem about a midnight visit by Saint Nicholas: Friday, December 4, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, December 5, at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.; and Sunday, December 6 at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. $12 to $10.
Also at Kelsey is “A Very Kelsey Christmas.” Created by Forte Dramatic Productions musical director Peter de Met, the show recreates a mid-20th century holiday in the guise of a 1950s live variety television show with holiday songs, skits, and an appearance by St. Nick.
Saturday, December 12, 8 p.m.; and Sunday, December 13, 2 p.m. $14 to $18. Kelsey Theater, Mercer County Community College, 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor. 609-570-3333 or www.kelseyatmccc.org.
The Tellings of the Trees, Egun Omode. Trenton’s Egun Omode dance/theater project returns to the Mill Hill Playhouse with its latest production, written, directed, and produced by Makeda Kemit, artistic director and choreographer. The story involves a young ruler and warrior’s encounter with the rising of the “ancient ones” and their important message. The 90-minute production features children actors and dancers as young as four years old, professional drummers on djembe and dundunba (drums of Guinea, West Africa), and a masterful storyteller who narrates the play, colorful costumes, and much more.
Friday, December 11, at 10 a.m. for schools and a 6 p.m. general public showing. Additional public shows are Saturday, December 12, at 6 p.m., and Sunday, December 13, at 11 a.m. $15 to $20. Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 East Front Street, Trenton. For tickets, go to www.thegarveyschool.org (click on Egun Omode) or www.passagetheatre.org. For more information, 609-792-9038 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
An American Christmas Songbook, Bristol Riverside Theater. Join musical director Keith Baker and the theater’s concert band for an evening of seasonal favorites, including hits from Broadway and film classics. It runs December 10 through 20, $10 to $40, 120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol. 215-785-0100 or www.brtstage.org.
The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Shakespeare’s farcical look on England’s social hierarchy and gender roles runs through Sunday, December 27, $32 to $62, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison. 973-408-5600, www.ShakespeareNJ.org.
A Christmas Story: The Musical, Paper Mill Playhouse. Based on the film of the same name, the show has New Jersey roots: the story is by the late radio personality, storyteller, and New Jersey resident Jean Shepherd, and the stage version was written by New Jersey playwright Job Robinette.
Through Sunday, January 3, $28 to $130, Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn. 973-376-4343 or www.PaperMill.org.
American Repertory Ballet’s The Nutcracker,” the region’s 50-year dance tradition, arrives in Trenton’s Patriots Theater at the War Memorial, 1 Memorial Drive, on Saturday, December 5, at 11 a.m. $20 to $45. 877-987-6487 or www.arballet.org/TrentonNutcracker.
The show moves to the State Theater in New Brunswick for performances featuring a live orchestra, conducted by Michael Pratt, and the Princeton Girlchoir. It runs Friday, December 18, 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday, December 19, and Sunday, December 20, at 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, $35 to $75. 732-246-7469 or www.statetheatrenj.org.
Roxey Ballet of Lambertville marks the 21st anniversary of its updated “The Nutcracker,” one that includes 150 dancers, giant rats, marching soldiers, swirling snowflakes, waltzing flowers, and a special appearance by Santa Claus. Kendall Theater at the College of New Jersey, 2000 Pennington Road, Ewing, Friday and Saturday, December 5 and 6 at 1 p.m., and matinee for schools and general public on Monday, December 7, at 10 a.m. $15.50 to $52.50. 609-397-7616 or www.roxeyballet.org.
Princeton Youth Ballet — formerly DanceVision — marks its 10th year as a pre-professional company with the presentation of “The Snow Queen” at Princeton High School Performing Arts Center, 151 Moore Street, Princeton, on Saturday and Sunday, December 12 and 13, at 4 p.m. $15 to $25. Tickets at the door are $25 for adults and $20 for children, students, and seniors. For group discounts, E-mail email@example.com or call 609-948-8065. www.princetonyouthballet.org or 800-838-3006.
New Jersey Youth Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” arrives at Kelsey Theater at Mercer County Community College on Friday, December 18, at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, December 19 and 20, at 1 and 4 p.m. The hour-long narrated version is designed as a friendly and affordable introduction to theater going, $14 to $16, 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor. 609-570-3333 or www.kelseyatmccc.org.
The Arts Council of Princeton has two holiday shows on tap. First up is a Chanukah celebration featuring the Princeton-based klezmer music group, Klez Dispensers, on Sunday, December 6, 2 to 4 p.m. The eight-piece ensemble, founded in 1998, includes clarinet, trumpet, saxophone, violin, piano, bass, drums and vocals.
Then area performer Sarah Donner follows with “Holiday Soiree” on Saturday, December 12, 8 to 10 p.m. Joining her for a playful evening of rock, bluegrass, and ballads, are vocalists/guitarists Amanda Duncan and Chris Q. Murphy, $10 to $12, 102 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. 609-924-8777 or artscouncilofprinceton.org.
Le Triomphe de l’amour celebrates its 25th holiday season with a concert of 17th and 18th century French music — including French Noels and excerpts from Charpentier’s Pastorale for the Christmas season — on Saturday, December 5, at 8 p.m. at the Unitarian Church of Princeton, 50 Cherry Hill Road.
Le Triomphe de l’amour performs music of the Baroque on period instruments and includes Laura Heimes, soprano; Linda Kistler, baroque violin; John Burkhalter, recorders; Donna Fournier, viola da gamba; and Janet Palumbo, harpsichord, $5 for students, $20 general admission. 609-252-0522 or www.triomphebaroque.org.
The Capital Singers of Trenton, a semi-professional chorus, presents “Winters Songs IX: A Family Christmas — Holiday to Broadway,” a program of carols, seasonal favorites, and Broadway songs with guest artist, musical theater and Broadway performer Ciaran Sheehan, Sunday, December 6, 4 p.m., at Sacred Heart Church, 343 South Broad Street, Trenton, $15 to $22. 609-620-0160 or www.capitalsingers.org.
Princeton University Chapel has the following programs that promise to get visitors into the spirit of the season:
The Advent Concert will be Sunday, December 6, 2:30 p.m., featuring the Chapel Choir and Orchestra presenting “Lauda per la Nativita del Signore” by Respighi and works by Ferko, Kverno, and Tavener. Penna Rose conducts. Free.
The annual Messiah Sing — a community sing-along with organ, strings, and trumpet — returns on Monday, December 14, at 7:30 p.m. Penna Rose conducts the audience members. $5 for general public, free for students.
The Candlelight Service of Lessons and Carols with the Chapel Choir, Glee Club, and a cappella groups is Wednesday, December 16, 7:30 p.m. Free. 609-258-3654 or www.princetonchapelchoir.com.
Princeton Symphony Orchestra presents its annual “Holiday POPS!” on Saturday, December 19, 4 p.m., at Richardson Auditorium on the Princeton University campus. In addition to orchestra performing music from “The Nutcracker” and “Hansel and Gretel,” the events includes the Princeton High School Choir, musicians from the Trenton Music School, and — in a carol sing along — the audience, $25 to $49. 609-497-0020 or princetonsymphony.org.
The New Jersey Symphony Chamber Orchestra brings Handel’s Messiah to the Richardson Auditorium on Friday, December 18. Produced in collaboration with McCarter Theater, the event is under the direction of Jacques Lacombe. Featured with the Montclair State University Singers are guest soloists soprano Celena Shafer, mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala, tenor William Burden, and bass-baritone Dashon Burton. $25 to $80. www.njsymphony.org or 800-255-3476.
Bravura Philharmonic Orchestra presents its holiday concert on Sunday, December 6, 7 p.m., at the Princeton Alliance Church, 20 Schalks Crossing, Plainsboro. Conducted by Chiu-Tze Lin, the orchestra of professionals and emerging musicians will perform selections from Handel’s “Messiah,” Bizet’s “Carmen Fantasy,” “Overture of Jewish Themes,” works by Prokofiev, and invite the audience to join in a sing-along. $18 to $30. 609 933-4729 or www.bravuraphil.org.
Princeton Pro Musica presents the Bach Christmas Oratorio on Saturday, December 19, at 8 p.m. at the College of New Jersey’s Kendall Theater. Artistic director Ryan James Brandau conducts the 100-member group, now in its 37th year, and an orchestra featuring period instruments, $25 to $60, 2000 Pennington Road, Ewing. www.princetonpromusica.org.
The Princeton Singers presents its annual “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” Saturday, December 12, at 8 p.m., Nassau Presbyterian Church, 61 Nassau Street. Noted author and Hightstown resident Paul Watkins provides the reading of Dylan Thomas’ recollection of a Welsh Christmas. Composer and artistic director Steven Sametz conducts. The event is recommended for ages 10 and up. $10 to $25. firstname.lastname@example.org, 866-846-7464, or www.princetonsingers.org.
The American Boychoir presents its annual “Home for the Holidays” concert at Richardson Auditorium on the Princeton University campus, on Sunday, December 20, 4 p.m. It is one of the stops for the world-famous organization with long ties to the Princeton area and complements that group’s performances at Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, $10 to $50. www.americanboychoir.org.
Boheme Opera appears at Grounds For Sculpture, 126 Sculptors Way, Hamilton, on Friday, December 4, at 7 p.m. with three singers performing Yuletide favorites, free with park admission 609-584-7800 or www.groundsforsculpture.org.
New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus’ “Come Home for the Holidays,” is Sunday, December 20, at 4 p.m., at Princeton United Methodist Church at the corner of Vandeventer Avenue and Nassau Street. $15 to $20. www.njgmc.org.
Voices Chorale presents “Stille Nacht,” a holiday offering of classic works at Miller Chapel, Princeton Theological Seminary, 64 Mercer Street, on Saturday, December 19, 3 p.m., and Hopewell Presbyterian Church, 80 West Broad Street, Sunday, December 20, 3 p.m. $25 to $40. www.voiceschorale.org.
Rider University and Westminster Choir College, one of the nation’s eminent music schools, has the following schedule of events to brighten up the season in sound:
Westminster Concert Bell Choir presents “A Classical Christmas,” featuring works by Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Bizet, and others, on Saturday and Sunday, December 5 and 6, 4 p.m. Bristol Chapel, Westminster Choir College, 101 Walnut Lane, Princeton, Kathleen Ebling Shaw, conducts, $20 to $25.
Rider University Band’s Winter Concert is Tuesday, December 8, 7:30 p.m. The concert features American and British band classics, modern transcriptions, and holiday music. Also performing is the Blawenburg Band, Bart Luedeke Center Theater, Rider University, Lawrenceville, free.
An Evening of Readings and Carols, holiday music featuring the Westminster Chapel Choir, Concert Bell Choir, Schola Cantorum, and Symphonic Choir with American Boychoir, Friday and Saturday, December 11 and 12, 8 p.m., Princeton University Chapel, Princeton University, $40 to $70.
An Afternoon of Readings and Carols matinee performance of holiday music for choir, organ and brass, is also scheduled for the chapel, at Saturday, December 12, 2 p.m., $40.
Westminster Community Orchestra: Holiday Sing-a-Long, Wednesday, December 16, 7:30 p.m., Robert L. Annis Playhouse, 101 Walnut Lane, Princeton, free will offering.
Westminster Community Chorus’ “Noel! A Celebration of Christmas in Word and Song,” Friday and Saturday, December 18 and 19, 7:30 p.m., Bristol Chapel, 101 Walnut Lane, Princeton, $15 and $20. 609-921-2663 or visit www.rider.edu/events.
Princeton Brass Band and Princeton Youth Brass Band host a combined holiday concert on Sunday, December 20, 2 p.m. at Montgomery High School, 1016 County Road 601, Skillman. www.princetonbrassband.org.
And the New Jersey Capital Philharmonic Orchestra ends the season with its annual New Year’s Eve concert, Thursday, December 31, 8 p.m. It features an evening of light classics by Shostakovich, Offenbach, Strauss, Gershwin, and others, and will be broadcast live on WWFM radio. Patriots Theater, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, $40 to $70. www.capitalphilharmonic.org.
Drumthwacket, the official mansion to New Jersey governors, is putting a light on the holiday and New Jersey. Once again the Garden Clubs of New Jersey have decorated the house to complement the building’s 19th-century Greek revival style. Holiday open house dates are Wednesdays, December 2, 9, and 16, and Sundays, December 6 and 13, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations are required.
Also on view is “Inspire: Everyday People Changing New Jersey,” featuring the work of nine New Jersey fine art photographers who captured images of 18 individuals who have been honored by the nonprofit foundation New Jersey Heroes. Photographers include Aubrey Kauffman (who is also a contributor to U.S. 1), Kay Kenny, Donald Lokuta, Geanna Merola, Klaus Schnitzer, Robin Schwartz, Jay Seldin, Wendel White, and Bruce White. 352 Stockton Street, Princeton. www.polclients.com/drumthwacket/housetour.cfm.
Morven Museum & Garden’s Festival of Trees is on view through Sunday, January 3. The exhibition involves community organizations who become guest decorators. This year’s participants are the Arts Council of Princeton, Contemporary Garden Club of Princeton, Dogwood Garden Club of Princeton, Garden Club of Princeton, landscape designer Jim Davidge of Princeton, Keris Tree Farm & Christmas Shop, Labyrinth Books, McCarter Theater, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, Princeton Public Library, Princeton Symphony Orchestra, Stony Brook Garden Club, designer Vicki Trainer, and the West Trenton Garden Club.
Festival of Tree events include free wreath making workshops, running Wednesday, December 2, through Friday, December 4; a Festival of Trees Holiday Party, Sunday, December 6, 5 to 7 p.m. with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and gallery visits ($125); and “Morning with Santa,” on Saturday, December 12, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. ($10 per family suggested donation).
Also on view is “Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Couple of an Age.” 55 Stockton Street, Princeton, Wednesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., $5 to $6. www.morven.org or 609-924-8144.
Holly Nights at Pennsbury Manor, the annual tour of the home of William Penn, returns on Thursday and Friday, December 3 and 4. The event includes a candlelight tour of the 18th century manor house and grounds illuminated by bonfires and brightened by carolers. Hours are 6 to 9 p.m., $6 to $14, 400 Pennsbury Memorial Road, Morrisville, Pennsylvania. 215-946-0400 or www.pennsburymanor.org.
Christmas at the Kuser Farm Mansion in Hamilton starts with the annual Winter Wonderland festivities, Friday and Saturday, December 4 and 5, 6 to 9 p.m., with a tree lighting ceremony on December 4 at 7 p.m. The event also features 20-minute walks through the Victorian-era mansion decorated in period style.
Other events include house tours on Sunday, December 6, 4 to 8 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday, December 9 to 11, 6 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, December 12, 4 to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, December 13, noon to 3 p.m. Santa Claus will be available to talk to children.
The Jersey Valley Model Railroad’s extensive HO train display will be open on Friday and Saturday, December 4 and 5, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, December 6, 4 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, December 9, 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday, December 12, 4 to 8 p.m., and Sunday, December 13, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tours and programs are free. Kuser Farm Mansion, 390 Newkirk Avenue, Hamilton. 609-890-3630 or E-mail PKrzywulak@hamiltonnj.com.
The 49th Mill Hill Holiday House Tour in Trenton is Saturday, December 5, noon to 5 p.m. About 15 to 20 homes in the 19th century neighborhood will swing open their doors and invite people to come in from the cold to take a look around. Tickets are $15 to $20; proceeds benefit the Old Mill Hill Society. Tour central is located at Artworks, 19 Everett Alley and South Stockton Street, Trenton. 609-815-1359 or trentonmillhill.org.
The William Trent House’s annual Green Sale and Holiday House Tour is Friday and Saturday, December 4 and 5. The event features Garden Club of Trenton’s decoration of the 18th-century home of one of Trenton’s early settlers and the opportunity to purchase holiday table arrangements and decorated and undecorated wreaths, Christmas Trees, and loose fresh greens. The two-day sale runs 12:30 to 5 p.m. Event proceeds will benefit the curatorial work and educational programming of the nonprofit Trent House Association.
Also look out for the Hogmanay celebration on Sunday, December 27. The 1719 Georgian-style manor is the oldest building in the state capital and is furnished as it would have been in the early 18th century. The William Trent House, 15 Market Street in Trenton, adjacent to the Hughes Justice Complex, free parking. 609-989-0087 or www.williamtrenthouse.org.
Howell Living History Farm’s “Christmas on the Farm” is Saturday, December 5. The annual all-day event includes horse drawn wagon rides, Christmas Tree cutting, craft workshops, old-fashioned decorating tips, hot apple cider, cookies, and a visit by Santa. Events usually start at around 10 a.m., 101 Hunter Road, Titusville, free admission and parking. Howell Farm is also an official drop off site for Toys for Tots. Share the gift of giving by bringing an unwrapped toy to the farm. 609-737-3299 or www.howellfarm.org.
Rockingham Historic Site’s Annual Candlelight Christmas Tours are Sunday, December 13, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Highlighting the house where George Washington stayed while the United States Congress met in Princeton, the tour highlights 18th-century Christmas traditions and special themes related to the era. Advance tour reservations must be made by calling 609-683-7136. Tours will be offered at least every half-hour with 3:30 p.m. being the last tour. Route 603, Rockingham. Free. www.rockingham.net.
The Johnson Ferry House at New Jersey’s Washington Crossing State Park in Titusville presents its annual lantern walking tour, Friday, December 18. This only-in-this-region event takes visitors by lantern light from that spot on the river where Washington’s army landed to the 18th century home of the farmers and ferry operators who welcomed them. Two tours are scheduled at 7 and 7:30 p.m. $5 to $10, reservations required, rain or shine. 355 Washington Crossing Pennington Road, Titusville. 609-737-2515 or www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html.
The annual Christmas Day re-enactment of Washington’s daring 1776 crossing of the Delaware River begins preparations at noon with the actual crossing at 1 p.m., but early birds can tour historical buildings, march with the troops, and join the crowds coming from around the region to celebrate the season, and commemorate one of the defining moments of the Revolutionary War. It’s a one-of-a-kind cultural event that can only happen in this region.
An annual dress rehearsal crossing provides an opportunity for history lovers unable to be on hand on Christmas Day to participate in the festivities. The event takes place on Sunday, December 13, and includes opportunities to visit historic buildings and meet re-enactors. Although the crossing rehearsal is at 1 p.m., park gates open 10 a.m. and close at 4 p.m. The day also serves as a fundraiser, so visitors will be making an investment for future crossings. Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children five to 11, and free for children under five.
Both events are at Washington Crossing Historic Park, located at the intersection of Routes 32 and 532, Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, across the river from New Jersey’s Washington Crossing State Park, Route 29, Titusville. 215-493-4076 or www.ushistory.org/washingtoncrossing/index.htm.
Patriots Week returns to downtown Trenton for its ninth year, with events from Saturday, December 26, through Thursday, December 31 (see special insert in this issue). The biggest Revolutionary War re-enactment event anywhere includes tours of some of the region’s most historic buildings: the Old Barracks (where British forces were housed) and the William Trent House (the oldest home in Trenton).
Also on the schedule is a Colonial Ball at the Masonic Temple and a Colonial-era inspired puppets show. But the big event is the Sunday, December 27, two-part re-enactment of the Battle of Trenton (at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.), complete with musket-bearing forces and cannon fire, staged right where Washington and his ragged forces waged their victorious fight against the most efficient and powerful military in the world. www.patriotsweek.com.
With all the indoor and outdoor events bringing New Jerseyans together to enjoy and remember, it is clear indication that there are plenty of “greens” to be had in the region, creating a type of winter light and inner warmth.
For complete listings of holiday and other events, check U.S. 1’s online calendar at www.princetoninfo.com.