Central New Jersey and Bucks County once again comes alive with the sounds and colors of the holiday season with a mixture of regional and world class theater, music, and historical recreations. The quality and abundance draws a simple conclusion: This has to be the hottest cultural spot in New Jersey — a place that even rivals numerous East Coast cities.
The Tony Award winning McCarter Theater gets to the heart of the season with the return its annual “A Christmas Carol,” opening on Tuesday, December 5. It’s the second outing for last year’s new production based on David Thompson’s popular adaptation of Charles Dickens’ story of redemption.
The direction is from former McCarter and Passage Theater associate artistic director Adam Immerwahr — now artistic director of Theater J in Washington, D.C. Also returning is veteran stage performer Greg Wood who — as U.S. 1 theater reviewer Simon Saltzman writes — “nails it as the story’s number one denier and decrier of the Christmas spirit. This is not an easy role to take on, but Wood makes Scrooge’s transformation from terrifying to tenderhearted as honest and real a makeover as one could ask.”
Through December 31. $26 to $77. McCarter Theater, 92 University Place, Princeton. 609-258-2787 or www.mccarter.org.
The fabled Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope is planning something merry and bright with the world premiere of a new holiday show, “Ebenezer Scrooge’s BIG Playhouse Christmas Show.” Created by performer Steve Rosen (Nathan Detroit in the recent Bucks production of “Guys and Dolls”) and stage director and writer Gordon Greenberg (“Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn” on Broadway), the play is being touted as “Five actors, three ladders, (and) lots of music and laughter.” One report calls it “A Christmas Carol” with “a sketch comedy, Saturday Night Live-inspired twist.”
December 8 through 31. $40 to $75. Bucks County Playhouse, 70 South Main, New Hope. 215-862-2121 or www.bcptheater.org.
Bristol Riverside Theater in nearby Bristol, Pennsylvania, is presenting a new benefit reading of “Christmas Carol,” Monday, December 11, at 7 p.m., but there’s an old twist: Performers Keith Baker and Jo Twiss will use the version that Dickens himself prepared for his own stage reading presentations. The benefit supports the theater’s community outreach projects.
Brightening the Bristol stage is “An American Christmas Songbook,” an annual musical celebration. The year’s presentation features the BRT Concert Band and familiar Bristol performers Demetria Joyce Bailey, Keith Spencer, Amy Spencer, and others.
December 7 to 17. $15 to $45. 120 Bristol Riverside Theater, Radcliffe Street, Bristol. 215-785-0100 or www.brtstage.org.
Kelsey Theater at Mercer County Community College continues its tradition of introducing children to theater with the stage production of the American poem “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Created by Clement Moore, the poem helped popularize “Saint Nick” and set in motion numerous holiday memories.
Performances by the Kelsey Players are Friday, December, 8, 7 p.m., Saturday, December 9, 2 and 4 p.m., and Sunday, December 10, 2 and 4 p.m. 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor. $10 to $12. 609-570-3333 or www.kelseyatmccc.org.
American Repertory Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is touring the region with its colorful Tchaikovsky, traditional and new choreography, and a cast of more than 100. A New Jersey holiday tradition since 1964, the ARB production is now one of the oldest continuously running “Nutcrackers” in the nation.
Stops include the Trenton War Memorial, at 1 Memorial Drive in Trenton, on Saturday, December 2, 2 p.m. ($20 to $45) and the State Theater in New Brunswick — where the professional company will be joined by a live orchestra — on Friday, December 15, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, December 16, 2 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, December 17, 1 and 5 p.m. ($35 to $75).
Trenton performance: 877-987-6487 or www.arballet.org/TrentonNutcracker.
State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick: 732-246-7469 or visit www.statetheatrenj.org.
Roxey Ballet, a professional company led by director and co-founder Mark Roxey, brings its annual “The Nutcracker” to the College of New Jersey on Saturday, December 2, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, December 3, 2 p.m. The cast includes more than 150 professional, pre-professional, and local dancers, actors, and guest community performers.
The Princeton Pro Musica will also be on hand to provide pre-performance holiday carols.
Kendall Theater at the College of New Jersey, 2000 Pennington Road, Ewing. $23 to $54. 609-397-7616 or www.roxeyballet.org.
Princeton Youth Ballet presents its “The Nutcracker,” choreographed by company artistic director Risa Kaplowitz, a past performer with the Manhattan Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, and the Metropolitan Opera.
Performances at the Princeton High School Performing Arts Centers, Saturday, December 9, at 4 p.m. and Sunday, December 10, noon and 4 p.m. $18 to $35. 151 Moore Street, Princeton. www.princetonyouthballet.org or 800-838-3006.
New Jersey Youth Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” arrives at Kelsey Theater for performances on Friday, December 15, at 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, December 16 and 17, at 1 and 4 p.m. The hour-long narrative version is designed to introduce youngsters to dance and theater.
Mercer County Community College, 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor. $14 to $16. 609-570-3333 or www.kelseyatmccc.org.
Westminster Choir College, recently called a “place of incalculable musical history” by former Governor Tom Kean, will demonstrate what it does best this season with two musical offerings. First, the internationally known Westminster Concert Bell Choir celebrates its 40th anniversary at Bristol Chapel on the Westminster campus on Saturday and Sunday, December 2 and 3, at 4 p.m. The program features Christmas classics and carols. Kathleen Ebling Shaw conducts. $15 to $20. 101 Walnut Lane, Princeton.
Westminster’s “An Evening of Readings and Carols 2017” then fills Princeton University Chapel with sound and pageantry on Friday, December 8, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, December 9, at 3 and 8 p.m. The annual holiday event features most of Westminster’s powerhouse performing groups: Chapel Choir, Concert Bell Choir, Schola Cantorum, Symphonic Choir, and the renowned Solid Brass group. Conductors include James Jordon, Joe Miller, Amanda Quist, and Kathleen Ebling Shaw. A true regional spectacle. $40 to $70.
609-921-2663 or www.rider.edu/events.
Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s annual “Holiday POPS!” arrives at Richardson Auditorium on Saturday, December 16, with performances at 4 and 7 p.m. The “Get Into the Holiday Spirit” concert is a regional event and features the Princeton High School Choir, under the direction of Vincent Metallo. PSO Musical Director Rossen Milanov conducts the program of favorite carols. $25 to $50. 609-497-0020 or princetonsymphony.org.
The New Jersey Symphony Chamber Orchestra and the Montclair State University Singers bring Handel’s “Messiah” to Princeton’s Richardson Auditorium on Friday, December 15, at 7:30 p.m. It is NJSO conductor Xian Zhang’s first New Jersey “Messiah.”
She will be joined by soprano Erin Wall, who has appeared with the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, and Opera National de Paris; mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby, a Westminster Choir College graduate and regular performer at Lyric Opera of Chicago; tenor Miles Mykkanen, Arizona and Palm Beach opera companies; and bass-baritone Michael Samuel, San Francisco Opera and Houston Grand Opera Company. Presented in collaboration with McCarter Theater.
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University. $25 to $80. 609-258-2787 or www.mccarter.org.
Princeton University Chapel comes alive in song for the season with several university-sponsored choral events. On Sunday, December 3, at 2:30 p.m., the Chapel Choir presents it annual Advent Concert featuring American composer Daniel Pinkham’s 1957 “Christmas Cantata” and other seasonal music.
On Monday, December 11, at 7:30 p.m., chapel music director Penna Rose will lead the “Messiah Sing,” the popular annual tradition where community members join to sing portions of Handel’s “Messiah.” You can bring a score or pick one up when you pay the $5 admission; students get in free.
And on Wednesday, December 13, 7:30 p.m., is “Lessons and Carols,” a candlelight service of readings and music featuring the Chapel Choir, Glee Club, and a cappella groups. Free.
Princeton University. 609-258-3654 or www.princetonchapelchoir.com.
Princeton Pro Musica presents “Joy to the World: A Christmas Suite” at the Trenton War Memorial on Sunday, December 10, at 4 p.m. Created by musical director and conductor Ryan James Brandau, the suite blends carols and holiday songs with the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederick Handel. Once again this area musical treasure will be joined by another regional gem, the Trenton Children’s Chorus.
1 Memorial Drive, Trenton. $10 to $60. www.princetonpromusica.org.
Bravura Philharmonic Orchestra presents its annual holiday concert on Sunday, December 3, at 7 p.m. Under the direction of founder Chiu-Tze Lin, the orchestra involves professional, amateur, and student musicians. Internationally performing American pianist Emiko Edwards is the featured guest artist.
Princeton Alliance Church, 20 Schalks Crossing Road, Plainsboro. $20. www.bravuraphil.org.
The Hopewell Valley Chorus — a 60-member unauditioned community chorale — is presenting its holiday concert at Saint James Church in Hopewell on Friday, December 15, at 7:30 p.m. The program features multi-traditional sacred and secular music and an audience chorus carol sing along.
115 East Delaware Avenue, Pennington. $12 to $15. 609-737-3177. www.hopewellvalleychorus.org.
The Capital Singers of Trenton, a semi-professional chorus, presents “Winters Songs 11” on Sunday, December 10, at 4 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church in Trenton. Its retiring founder, Richard M. Loatman, is conducting his final concert with a program combining classical and popular music with pieces ranging from Handel to folk songs. A double brass quartet will accompany the singers.
343 South Broad Street, Trenton. $15 to $22. 609-620-0160 or www.capitalsingers.org.
The Princeton Singers present “A Rose in Winter” at Trinity Church in Princeton on Saturday, December 2, at 6 p.m. With its new holiday offering the group promises a program that ranges “from the sublime to the bawdy, with songs and readings of the season. Artistic director Steven Sametz conducts.
33 Mercer Street, Princeton. $10 to $25. 866-846-7464 or www.princetonsingers.org.
Boheme Opera of New Jersey returns to Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton for its annual “Boheme Holiday Opera” on Friday, December 8, at 7 p.m. The new work was designed to complement GFS’ current exhibition, “Elyn Zimmerman: Sensitive Chaos,” and give attention to the natural elements depicted by the contemporary American sculptor. Also on the program are aria favorites by Verdi and Puccini, holiday hits, and sing-along.
126 Sculptors Way, Hamilton. Free with park admission, $10 to $18. 609-584-7800 or www.groundsforsculpture.org.
Voices Chorale’s “Music for the Season of Advent” will be performed at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Princeton on Saturday, December 9, at 4 p.m. This year’s annual celebration of seasonal choral works will also commemorate the first concert by Voices’ new music director and conductor, Richard Tang Yuk, who also serves as the director for the Princeton Festival.
33 Mercer Street, Princeton. $10 to $35. www.voiceschorale.org.
The Capital Philharmonic of New Jersey welcomes 2018 with its annual New Year’s Eve Concert at the Trenton War Memorial at 8 p.m. The program features a blend of symphonic and popular music, including “The Skater’s Waltz,” Gershwin songs for Hollywood films, film composer John Williams’ arrangement of the tango from “Scent of a Woman,” and more. Daniel Spalding conducts and WWFM radio director David Osenberg hosts the live broadcast.
1 Memorial Drive, Trenton. $10 to $75. www.capitalphilharmonic.org.
Morven Museum & Garden’s Festival of Trees has already opened and is on view throughout the season in the historic home built by Declaration of Independence signer Richard Stockton. The festival is a community affair with nonprofits, businesses, and garden clubs decorating.
This year’s groups include the Contemporary Garden Club, Dogwood Garden Club, Garden Club of Princeton, Grounds For Sculpture, Homestead Princeton, KA Signature Design, Keris Tree Farm & Christmas Shop, McCarter Theater Center, Princeton Public Library, Stony Brook Garden Club, VanDerveer Design, and the West Trenton Garden Club.
Morven is open Wednesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. $5 to $6. 55 Stockton Street, Princeton. 609-924-8144 or www.morven.org.
Christmas at the Kuser Farm Mansion in Hamilton is back and opens with the Winter Wonderland festivities on Friday and Saturday, December 1 and 2, from 6 to 9 p.m. The free event includes a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, visits to “Santa’s Village” (including free pictures with Santa); rides on the “Holiday Express Train,” a petting zoo, tours of the Victorian-era mansion, musical entertainment, food vendors, and more.
And 45-minute tours of the mansion decorated in historic Victorian style are set for Sunday, December 3, 4 to 8 p.m.; Wednesday, December 6, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Wednesday to Friday, December 6 to 8, 6 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, December 9, 4 to 8 p.m.; and Sunday, December 11, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Another attraction is the intricate and imaginative New Jersey Valley Model Railroad display open Friday and Saturday, December 1 and 2, 6 to 9 p.m.; Sunday, December 3, 4 to 8 p.m.; Wednesday, December 6, 6 to 9 p.m.
390 Newkirk Avenue, Hamilton. Free. 609-890-3630 or PKrzywulak@hamiltonnj.com.
The 51st Mill Hill Holiday House Tour in Trenton is Saturday, December 2, from noon to 5 p.m. Between 15 to 20 homes in the 19th-century neighborhood will open their doors and invite people to get a colorful eyeful. Organized by the Old Mill Hill Society, the tour plays an important role in the restoration of the neighborhood with ticket sales going to historic preservation grants.
Included this year’s tour is the historic Douglass House, used by George Washington as his headquarters while the Second Battle of Trenton raged along the nearby Assunpink Creek. Other attractions include presentations by the Trenton Children’s Chorus, Rancocas Valley Regional High School Chamber Choir, violinist Ann Marie Pocklembo, and the Trenton Capital Singers. A food truck and other vendors will also be on hand.
Start at Artworks, 19 Everett Alley and South Stockton Street, Trenton. $15 to $20. 609-815-1359 or trentonmillhill.org.
The 1719 William Trent House’s annual Green Sale and Holiday House Tour are scheduled for Saturday, December 2, from 12:30 to 5 p.m. Once again the Garden Club of Trenton decorates the 18th-century home of Trenton’s namesake, William Trent, and gives the community the opportunity to purchase holiday arrangements to deck homes in green — as well as support the Trent House’s curatorial and education efforts.
15 Market Street, Trenton. Free. www.williamtrenthouse.org.
Howell Living History Farm’s annual “Christmas on the Farm” is Saturday, December 2. Festivities at the early 20th-century living history farm include the noontime arrival of St. Nick and his sleigh, cookies, horse-drawn wagon rides, a tree cutting, and old-time tree decorating with ear corn, pinecones, and other natural ornaments. Gift baskets, sleigh bells, wreaths, and other handmade items will be available for sale in the gift shop.
101 Hunter Road, Titusville. Events start at around 10 a.m. Free. 609-737-3299 or www.howellfarm.org.
Drumthwacket, the official mansion to New Jersey governors, is offering several days of free tours to view the state’s first house in high Jersey style. The grand 19th-century Greek revival-style house is open on Wednesdays, December 6, 13, and 20, and Sunday, December 10, at 11 a.m., noon, and 1 p.m. Visits are confined only to the first floor and are unguided, but docents are available to answer questions.
This year’s mansion decorators include the Garden Club of New Jersey, along with other garden clubs from Belvidere, Essex Fells, Keyport, Mountain Lakes, Stony Brook, and West Trenton.
352 Stockton Street, Princeton. Reservations are on a first-come-first-served basis. Free on-site parking. drumthwacket.org/visit/open-houses.
Pennsbury Manor in Morrisville’s annual Holly Night is Thursday and Friday, December 7 and 8, from 6 to 9 p.m. Set in the reconstructed summer home of William Penn, the event lets visitors walk into the 17th century and find open fires, carolers, colonial crafts, Yule Logs, hot cider, and history.
400 Pennsbury Memorial Road, Morrisville, Pennsylvania. $6 to $14. 215-946-0400 or www.pennsburymanor.org.
Rockingham Historic Site’s annual candlelight Christmas tours are Sunday, December 10, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The house is where George Washington stayed while the United States Congress met in Princeton, and visitors will be accompanied by 18th-century-clad members of the Montgomery Township Live Historians club and hear tales of Revolutionary War fighters such as General Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and lesser-known patriots.
The tour also features period music by John Burkhalter of Practitioners of Musick, holiday goodies, and warm drinks in the Children’s Museum. There is also a shop selling period toys, Rockingham honey, books, a Rockingham DVD, quills, and tricorn hats.
Advance tour reservations must be made by calling 609-683-7136. Tours offered every half-hour with 3:30 p.m. being the last tour. Free (with suggested donation). Route 603, Kingston. www.rockingham.net.
The Johnson Ferry House at New Jersey’s Washington Crossing State Park in Titusville presents its annual lantern walking tour on Friday, December 22. Two hour-plus tours for two different groups are scheduled at 7 and 7:30 p.m. This only-in-this-region event takes visitors by lantern light from the spot where Washington’s army landed to the 18th-century home of the farmers and ferry operators who welcomed them.
Tours begin at the Nelson House and include the Ferry Landing site and ferry boat, a stone barn, and the Johnson Ferry House. Hearth-baked refreshments are included.
355 Washington Crossing Pennington Road, Titusville. $5 to $10, reservations required, rain or shine. 609-737-2515 or www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html.
And get into the action with the regional history and the Christmas Day battle that turned the Revolution:
The Old Barracks Museum in Trenton will once again host the 17th Regiment of Infantry — a Colonial era British troop — on Saturday, December 2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors will get an up-close-and-personal look at the daily life of a British soldier in New Jersey during the Revolution. Soldiers will demonstration daily drills, musket demonstrations, outdoor camp cooking, and winter uniform preparation and repairs.
The regiment was established in 2002 to bring the experiences of the common British soldier to historic sites from New York State to Virginia. Members collectively research and recreate uniforms and equipment.
101 Barrack Street, Trenton. $6 to $8. 609-396-1776 or www.barracks.org.
The annual recreation of George Washington’s Christmas Day crossing of the Delaware River to take Trenton — at the very location the major historical event occurred — draws thousands of visitors. And while it is a one-of-a-kind regional event, there are two occasions to view it. Both start on the Pennsylvania side of the river.
The first is the dress rehearsal crossing is on Sunday, December 10. It is a great opportunity for history lovers unable to attend on Christmas Day to witness Washington and troops on the river. The festive occasion features opportunities to visit historic buildings and meet re-enactors. While the crossing takes place at 1 p.m., park gates open at 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 5 to 11, and free for children under five.
Then there is the main event: the free annual Christmas Day crossing. The reenactment is at also 1 p.m., but come early to march with the troops, tour buildings, and join fellow countrymen and visitors waiting for the cannon shot that signals the boats to carry General Washington and troops across the water. An early arrival also helps secure a parking place or a good viewing spot.
Both events are at Washington Crossing Historic Park, Routes 32 and 532, Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. 215-493-4076 or www.ushistory.org/washingtoncrossing/index.htm.
Patriots Week returns to downtown Trenton on Tuesday, December 26, with the biggest Revolutionary War re-enactment event anywhere. The multi-day event includes tours of historic spots, camp reenactments, and two-part Battle of Trenton, puppet theater performances, a Colonial-era ball, and more. While many events take place at or near the Old Barracks, one of the area’s historical treasures, the two recreated battles — featuring re-enactors with Revolutionary War era uniforms and weaponry — take place on the actual sites of the original battles. Most events are free. www.patriotsweek.com.