In the latest issue of Out In Jersey print magazine you’ll see many great ideas for holiday gifts. But there is one gift that is unique — that of giving an experience, something the recipient will remember for years to come. And the best experience I know is live theater, in which the Garden State excels!
This season is special in many ways for area theater. It is the 85th anniversary for the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, the 50th anniversary for the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, and the 25th anniversary for the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Two River Theater in Red Bank is having its first season under new artistic director Justin Waldman, and will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2024. George Street is celebrating 25 years with David Saint at the helm, while the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison is closing out its final season under artistic director Bonnie L. Monte after 33 years.
Here to help in your selection are shows that are being presented in New Jersey theaters during December and January:
George Street Playhouse, in the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center (NBPAC), offers a new production of Having Our Say. This affectionate comedy, from the book of the same name by centenarian sisters Sarah L. “Sadie” Delany and A. Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany with New York Times writer Amy Hill Hearth, was adapted for the stage by Emily Mann in 1995. It relates the Delany sisters’ lives from their childhood in North Carolina to their professional careers in New York City, painting a vivid personal picture of the lives of African-Americans over the course of the 20th century. The show runs through Dec. 17. It is followed by Ibsen’s Ghost by gay playwright/actor Charles Busch, a fantasy about the great playwright’s widow trying to maintain his standing as a writer while dealing with surprises from his personal life. Performances begin Jan. 16. georgestplayhouse.org
Princeton’s McCarter Theatre Center continues their holiday tradition by presenting a stage adaptation of the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, from Dec. 6 to Dec. 24. Filled with music and magic, the play, in the hands of the talented McCarter designers, mixes humor with a tinge of fright — because this is a ghost story, after all! mccarter.org
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey closes out its season with A Midwinter Night’s Dream, a seasonal transposition of the beloved comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, adapted from Shakespeare’s original by Bonnie L. Monte and Joseph Discher. Star-crossed lovers, rude mechanicals, and fairy royalty cause confusion in the Athenian woods, ending in (what else?) a happy resolution. The show runs until Dec. 31. Also, on Dec. 14 there will be a staged reading for kids of the Hans Christian Andersen classic The Snow Queen at 11 a.m. shakespearenj.org
Millburn’s Paper Mill Playhouse has not one but two musicals for your holiday enjoyment. First up is a revival of the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof. The tale of a Jewish family in Czarist Russia and their village’s life and warmth runs through Jan. 7. This will be followed by After Midnight, a revue-style show drawing on jazz and swing music of the 1930s and set in Harlem’s legendary Cotton Club. Performances begin January 31st. papermill.org
NBPAC’s Crossroads Theatre Company celebrates the life and music of a singer who only needs one name to be instantly recognized in Ella — A Musical Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. Starring the legendary Freda Payne singing the songs that Ella made famous, this tribute runs from Dec. 20 through Dec. 22. crossroadstheatrecompany.org
Although not in New Jersey, the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pa. is just across the river from its Jersey twin, Lambertville. For the holidays, the Playhouse offers Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, based on the popular movie of the same name. Fellow composer Jerome Kern once said, “Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American music,” and you’ll see why with such songs as “Count Your Blessings,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” and the title tune. The show runs through Dec. 31. bcptheater.org
There are also theatrical events playing short runs at the area’s performing arts centers during the holidays. The Avenel Performing Arts Center (avenelarts.com) presents a musical version of A Christmas Carol for children Dec. 15 and 16, while another murder mystery dinner show, Your Cheatin’ Heart…Just Stopped Beating, is presented Jan. 25 through Jan. 27.
Algonquin Arts Center (algonquinarts.org) in Manasquan has several offerings. The musical Elf runs through Dec. 17. Another musical version of A Christmas Carol for children appears Dec. 15; and the thriller Deathtrap runs from Jan. 19 through Jan. 28.
New Brunswick’s venerable State Theatre (stnj.org) offers the hit Broadway musical Come From Away, playing four performances Jan. 5 through Jan. 7.
Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center (mayoarts.org) presents three performances of the riotous musical Hairspray on Jan. 26-27.
Great gifts of Jersey theater all year round can be found by checking these websites:
The New Jersey Theatre Alliance covers shows in the professional theaters up and down the Garden State. njtheatrealliance.org
ArtPride New Jersey offers information on all art events happening in the state, not just theater. jerseyarts.com