"Kurious" the latest from Cirque du Soleil.
It's the holidays in San Francisco. Giant snowflakes decorate Market Street, a non-denominational tree will soon sprout at City Hall, and Santa has banished Evil Elmo to jail. This also means your in-laws (or your awkward cousins, or your sister and her gaggle of implacable kids) are in town and it falls to you to show them a good time.
Here's our guide to the holiday stage, with four shows heavy on seasonal cheer (in case your family is sucking down the eggnog) and four a little more against type (in case your family is skipping the eggnog and going right for brandy).
Kurious: Cabinet of Curiosities at AT&T Park (Nov. 14-Jan. 18)
You may notice that Cirque du Soleil's giant circus tent is planted in our ballpark parking lot every year now. This season's director, Michel Laprise, first encountered Cirque just a few years after its founding, as a bi-racial kid who didn't quite fit in his mostly white small town. "I was in Quebec City with my dad and saw people of all different nationalities and shapes doing amazing things. I started to cry," he says. Laprise's first Cirque show is a heck of a production: It took a year just to design the surface the stage is made of. It's an H.G. Wells-tinged sci-fi story featuring an eccentric inventor, Parisian steampunk robots, and invisible acrobats. "I was thinking about Tesla and Edison and the 19th century," says Laprise. "People were curious about everything then: phonographs, railroads, electricity, everything. And it was very weird, like San Francisco."
See it if: Your in-laws are more into Burning Man than The Little Drummer Boy.
Cinderella at the African American Shakespeare Company (Dec. 6-21)
It's an AASC holiday tradition. You know the drill: Poor girl, fairy godmother, dancing dancing dancing, glass slipper for the win. But to up the endearing-ness factor, director Margo Hall has been waiting literally her entire life for this show: "I was Cinderella for Halloween. I begged my mom to let me wear my glass slippers everywhere." We defy you to turn your nose up at Margo Hall's dreams.
See it if: Your in-laws are suckers for a classic.
Promises, Promises at SF Playhouse (Nov. 18-Jan. 10) This was Mad Men back before Mad Men was cool...also back before it existed, because this musical is actually from 1968 and irony hadn't been invented yet. Director Bill English's new production promises "a lovelorn young executive and a romantically troubled waitress, knotted in a twist of sexual affairs and corporate shenanigans." Yowza. Bring the kids!
See it if: Your in-laws are bored by all this family-friendly crap anyway.
A Christmas Carol at ACT (Dec. 5-28)
You already know what this one's about. Don't play that game. Local actor James Carpenter has been playing Scrooge at ACT's annual holiday show seemingly since Dickens set down his pen. And you know what? He's still really damn good.
See it if: Your in-laws have eyes and ears and a heart.
La Boheme at SF Opera (Nov. 14-Dec. 7)
Puccini's oft-imitated tale of impoverished creatives: Gee, I wonder if anyone in San Francisco can relate to that? You know all those stories where there's a love triangle with a poor guy and a rich guy and a beautiful woman and at the end someone dies? Like Rent? Or Moulin Rouge? Or (spoiler alert) Looking (minus the girl, that is)? This is where all that came from. "It's basically the perfect opera," says opera general director David Gockley. "There's a reason some shows never fall out of favor."
See it if: Your in-laws want something sophisticated and educational and don't mind a downer ending. (It's an opera, after all.)
ELF the Musical at the Curran Theatre (Dec. 12-28)
If you're skeptical of a Broadway musical based on a Will Ferrell movie, you're probably not alone, but people really, really like this one. Even New York Times critic/weapons-grade curmudgeon Charles Isherwood gave it some grumbling praise, and this in a review in which he goes out of his way to talk about hating Christmas. Bah humbug.
See it if: Your in-laws were big fans of Talladega Nights.
Red Hot Patriot at Berkeley Rep (Nov. 21-Jan. 4)
Holy crap, Kathleen Turner is coming to town. This has nothing to do with the holidays, we're just excited. And she's making her Berkeley Rep debut playing firebrand liberal journalist Molly Ivins in a show written by two journalists. So, forget about you, we are getting what we want for Christmas here. "I think people right now are really desperate to hear Molly’s voice," Turner said of her Washington D.C. run of the show back in 2012. After this last election, yeah, folks in Berkeley probably are too.
See it if: Your in-laws are Kinky Friedman voters.
Nutcracker Sweets at Fort Mason Center (Dec. 13-21)
SF Ballet does its lavish Nutcracker every year, and we still think it's great. But if you don't have the scratch for it or you just plain want something new, Mark Foehringer's crew offers a 50-minute, four-scene version with seven dancers and no fat for a pretty good bargain.
See it if: Your in-laws get dewy-eyed remembering childhood dance recitals.
And of course, if you dare, there's always an old standby...
Beach Blanket Babylon's Seasonal Extravaganza (Nov. 19 - Dec. 31)
Because who ever said good bad taste had to go out with aluminum Christmas trees and plastic reindeer?
See it if: Your in-laws are already well into the wine.