Cleveland Theaters Spread Holiday Cheer With New Online Productions

Dancer Lexi Lattimore performs in the online production of "Joyful." [Karamu House]
Dancer Lexi Lattimore performs in the online production of "Joyful." [Karamu House]
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People won’t be stepping inside area theaters to enjoy holiday shows this year, but local theaters still want to connect and spread some cheer with new streaming productions.

Cleveland Play House

Cleveland Play House breaks from its tradition of presenting “A Christmas Story,” based on the movie with the same name filmed in Cleveland in the ‘80s and focused on the infamous Ralphie.

Artistic Director Laura Kepley said it was time for a change this year.

“We’re really looking not just at holiday programing but year-round programing, about how our stage can be more inclusive,” she said.

This year’s holiday production, “Songs from The First Noel,” shares selections from a musical about an African-American family living in Harlem.

“It moves from the current day back to the ‘80s. And it's really about a family who needs to confront some of the grief from their past in order to come together and celebrate the holidays,” Kepley said. “This holiday season’s gonna be different for a lot of people, and so the musical, 'The First Noel,' couldn't come at a better time.”

Scene from a prior production of "The First Noel." ["The First Noel"]

Scene from a prior production of "The First Noel" by Lelund Durond Thompson and Jason Micahel Webb. ["The First Noel"]

One of the creators of the musical, Lelund Durond Thompson, is a CPH alum. Kepley said the hope is to bring his musical onstage in the future.

The online production, “Songs from The First Noel,” is available on demand Dec. 20- Jan. 1. If viewers are missing the decorated trees inside Playhouse Square this year, CPH put together a slideshow of tree photos from previous holiday seasons, available with the show. CPH also hosts a holiday movie night of commissioned films by local and national artists on Dec. 17.

Karamu House

Karamu House’s new online production, “Joyful,” features a range of music celebrating a variety of holidays and aims to lift viewers’ spirits while watching from laptops and living rooms.

“We had a tough election season, it's been a tough year with the dual pandemics, and so Karamu said, 'We wanted to give something that people could kind of sit back and enjoy the holiday season,'” said Tony Sias, Kararmu’s president and CEO.

It’s not just audience members who need to feel good this season, but musicians and performers, too. They came together in-person for limited rehearsal time to film the “Joyful” production from Karamu’s stage in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood.

"The performers and the entire team didn't take coming together for granted," Sias said. “There was a spirit of joy doing the work, a spirit of transparency and honesty and genuine appreciation for coming in and being able to sing these holiday songs that do bring joy."

Michele Edwards, vocalist, appears in "Joyful." [Karamu House]

Michele Edwards, vocalist, appears in "Joyful." [Karamu House]

Holiday productions normally pack the house at Karamu, and “Joyful” is Karamu’s first experiment with charging for on-demand viewing. From prior online productions this year, Sias said Karamu has been connecting with viewers around the country, an unexpected positive during the pandemic. “Joyful” streams online through Jan. 10.

Near West Theatre

Cleveland’s Near West Theatre in the Gordon Square Arts District normally presents an intergenerational show in December, typically with a large cast. It’s still bringing together multiple generations this holiday season, with an online special connecting community members who at various points in time have called Near West “home,” according to artistic director Trinidad Snider.

“My goal was to, as people are watching this, see someone's name come up and go, ‘Oh, my goodness, I haven't seen that person since 1992 when they were in this show or this person since 2001,’” she said.  

Sarah Farris, Anthony Keaton and Felix Albino appear in "All Roads Lead to Home." [Amber Patrick \ Near West Theatre]

Sarah Farris, Anthony Keaton and Felix Albino appear in "All Roads Lead to Home." [Amber Patrick \ Near West Theatre]

"All Roads Lead to Home” provides online viewers with performances and messages of hope. The music and messages are not themed to any particular holiday, but Snider said the production has all the positive feels, perhaps needed even more this year.

“We didn't want anyone to view this and feel like, “Oh, well, I don't really celebrate that, or I don't really do that. Maybe that's not necessarily for me.’ This is for everyone,” Snider said. “It really feels like a variety show, but in the most sentimental way we could possibly make it."

“All Roads Lead to Home” streams Dec. 18- Jan. 3.

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