Whether you prefer to immerse yourself in the holiday spirit or rebel against the trappings of the season, you’ll find your fun downtown with a few of Phoenix’s quirkier activities. Adults-only theater pushes the envelope with A Bloody Mary Christmas while unique Christmas light tours appeal to all ages, and puppetry and dance shows keep kids jolly.
Ballet Arizona offers the usual fairies and sugarplums at Symphony Hall with its spectacular, highly acclaimed production of The Nutcracker (through December 28), reinvented a few years ago by artistic director Ib Andersen. Tchaikovsky’s familiar music performed by The Phoenix Symphony can’t be beat, and a family four-pack includes parking, premium seats, a photo with the Sugarplum Fairy and hot cocoa.
If you prefer the music of a different Russian, try Snow Queen at Herberger Theater Center’s Stage West (through Dec. 21), choreographed by Frances Smith Cohen and presented by Center Dance Ensemble. Hans Christian Andersen’s tale comes to life with melodies by Sergei Prokofiev. Take a midday work break, buy or bring your lunch, and sample the Lunch Time Dance Theater option for only $6.
In addition to the occasional wickedly subversive 18+ puppet slam, Great Arizona Puppet Theater provides a steady stream of funny shows for children young and old. The Night Before Christmas (through December 28) features joyful music and stories.
For those who love cinema, FilmBar offers a glorious month full of movies in an intimate 70-seat venue with the added bonus of a beer and wine bar (alcohol with popcorn — what could be better?). December’s options include The Captive, The Babadook, Bad Santa and Free the Nipple (both on the Naughty & Nice Film Series), Awake: The Life of Yogananda, and the incomparable Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Foreign films include Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (El ángel exterminador) and Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le metro as a double feature. And don’t miss Opera at FilmBar — December 19 brings Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella) from the Gran Teatre del Liceu, starring a sparkling Joyce DiDonato and the yummy Juan Diego Flórez.
The calendar’s packed at Crescent Ballroom, where Cocina 10’s food and drink are complemented by the stories of Chow Bella’s Eating Christmas (December 16). For a canned food donation you’ll hear food-themed tales of holiday adventure (for ages 21 and older). Otherwise, try “Life’s a Drag. Party Like a Queen” (December 18) with interactive games, “Truth, Drag or Dare,” and drink specials all hosted by Olivia Gardens.
Phoenix Theatre serves a full plate of seasonal cheer with Holiday Classics From Screen to Stage (December 18-21), when Arizona Opera singers croon holiday favorites from films like Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, Love Actually, A Charlie Brown Christmas and more. Vocalist Dennis Rowland takes the stage with the Greg Warner Project and special guest Diana Lee for the Holiday Jazz Cabaret (December 22-24) and a range of Christmas classics. And you’re sure to have a jolly holiday with Mary Poppins (through December 28), an eye-popping fast-paced feast of color, song, dance, and special effects including Valley favorite Toby Yatso as a tap-dancing, levitating chimney sweep.
Back in the realm of adults-only entertainment, Space 55 pulls out all the stops for the fifth year of A Bloody Mary Christmas (through December 21), in which Sun City retirees sing, dance, and battle a heartless homeowners’ association. Set to original music by Dangerville and Samson Says, Bloody Mary showcases Toni Jourdan, Lee Quarrie, Paula McKenny and Bob Peters. 7 Minutes Under the Mistletoe (December 20) gives local performers their seven minutes in the sun with an opportunity to do whatever they want — interpretive dance, dinosaur burlesque, competitive doughnut eating, action figure battles…even naked stage magic. Who knows what you’ll see?
Other Space 55 shows include Storyline: A Winter’s Tale (December 19), part of a monthly storytelling showcase, and Resolutions! A new show for an old year (December 31), a good warm-up for your New Year’s Eve party or downtown’s Flannel Ball.
“Hip Historian” Marshall Shore brings a big yellow school bus to The Clarendon Hotel as the launch point for his Christmas Lights Tours (December 16, 18 & 23). “We cruise through Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa,” says Shore. “I curate for the most jaw-dropping displays that I can locate.” Join in the caroling and live music with your very own kazoo (provided), or sit back and enjoy Shore’s talents as a storyteller while you see commercial, private home and religious displays.
If you go:
- Ballet Arizona: The Nutcracker (through December 28)
- Center Dance Ensemble: Snow Queen (through December 21)
- at Herberger Theater Center’s Stage West, 222 E. Monroe
- visit centerdance.com or call 602-252-8497
- Great Arizona Puppet Theater: The Night Before Christmas (through December 28)
- in the GAPT’s lovely renovated historic 1929 LDS 2nd Ward Church, 302 W. Latham
- visit azpuppets.org or call 602-262-2050
- 815 N. 2nd St.
- visit thefilmbarphx.com or call 602-595-9187
- Crescent Ballroom and Cocina 10
- 308 N. 2nd Ave.
- visit crescentphx.com or call 602-716-2222
- Phoenix Theatre
- 100 E. McDowell Rd.
- visit phoenixtheatre.com or call 602-254-2151
- Space 55
- 636 E. Pierce St.
- visit space55.org
- “Hip Historian” Marshall Shore: Christmas Lights Tours (December 16, 18 & 23)
Schedules are subject to change. For more holiday diversions visit DowntownPhoenix.com:
Here at DPJ, we’re all about sharing what we love. Beyond the stories that make us love downtown, we often come across things that catch our eye, make our senses tingle or have us dancing in delight. “We Like…” turns a brief spotlight on the little treasures that make our day, with helpful links so you can share in the fun.
Looking for the perfect seasonal soundtrack? Trying to find an entirely unique gift? Nothing could be jollier — or quirkier — than Oy to the World!, the holiday-melding album from Paul Libman featuring a vastly talented group of musicians called The Klezmonauts.
It’s been around 15 years since Libman released his inventive collection of tunes on Oy, and the album’s still selling like hot latkes. Although Shirim Klezmer Orchestra tweaked Tchaikovsky’s beloved score into a klezmer Nutcracker, there’s never been anything quite like Libman’s light-hearted assortment of klezmerized, jazzy Christmas carols, with their startlingly familiar musical references.
My sister discovered Oy several years ago, and both of us have been gifting it year-round ever since. Honestly, it’s just as refreshing in July as December. Here’s a handful of reasons why I love this CD:
- I’ve had a weakness for klezmer, the traditional music of Eastern European Jews, ever since I first heard Itzhak Perlman’s version on In the Fiddler’s House, and I’d like to try my hand (although I’m a pretty square classical violinist)
- Libman uses musical quotes cleverly borrowed from every possible source, including “Wipeout”and Ennio Morricone’s soundscapes (and I can’t resist spaghetti westerns either)
- The Arizona connection: the original song “Santa Gey Gezunderheit” (which translates to “Santa, Go in Good Health”) was written by Libman with local composer Mark Pierce
- Oy’s creator has a marvelous background in jingles, including “Two Scoops” for Kellogg’s Raisin Bran
When I contacted Libman to ask more about the album (and plead for a sequel), he responded with a friendly e-mail. “At the time I created Oy, I had a jingle production company and a recording studio in Chicago,” he says. “I’ve since found my calling in musical theatre and have moved to New York.”
Before he began composing award-winning musical theater, Libman wrote thousands of tunes for Old Spice, Hamburger Helper, and countless other products — check out his archive of commercials on YouTube and his website, where the “Demos from Hell” are particularly entertaining. “Not surprisingly, Oy has been a terrific calling card for me in NYC,” he told me. “Nearly every musician I meet knows or owns the CD.”
Based on the album’s quality, I wasn’t too surprised when Libman told me more about The Klezmonauts, a one-time pick-up band he assembled just for Oy. “They were an almost embarrassingly talented combination of studio musicians and Chicago Symphony members,” he said.
The star-studded ensemble featured jazz trumpeter Bobby Lewis , violinist Arnie Roth (a long-time member of Mannheim Steamroller), Blue Note Records guitarist Fareed Haque, and the late jazz violinist Johnny Frigo. Shelley Yoelin played clarinet and more — he’s active in Maxwell Street Klezmer Band — and Libman himself recorded piano and percussion on the CD.
“I’m not entirely sure what inspired me,” Libman added, “but, being Jewish and married to an Italian Catholic, I was especially excited to create something both our families could enjoy.”
Find Oy to the World! –
When it comes to gift-giving, artists have never been like other people. It’s a hit to your pride to shop at Macy’s for a sweater when you could (should) be at home, crafting up that perfect one-of-a-kind gesture.
If you have an artist friend, it is likely you will be given something unique. This can have something to do with several factors: (1) occasional bouts of “poorness;” (2) an overactive sense of “do-it-yourself-ness;” and (3) the simple fact that artists have a lot of crap they’ve made that is currently taking up space in their house/studio/shed/rented storage space/parent’s house.
The following is a handy guide to artist gift-buying, and yes, receiving.
The Giving Artist
Here are a few things you might find cleverly gift-wrapped, “just for you:”
A Piece of Old Art. An obvious choice. For those who aren’t artists, it might (literally) shock you to find out how many things an artist has made in her lifetime: sets of prints; small drawings: little crafted wooden boxes (this also applies to architects): glass or metal lamps from that time she went through that phase where she made lamps; or a framed (failed) photograph of a generic thing that will look good above your kitchen sink. If you have an artist friend and haven’t yet received something like this, just wait.
Handcrafted Utilitarian Object. I have, in the past, crocheted cup cozies and screen printed placemats. You may receive a lopsided ceramic bowl or a t-shirt imprinted with their “symbol.” This category could also include self-made objects like bookends, napkin rings, ashtrays, wind chimes, tote bags, clocks and anything made of felt. TIP: Remember to always have these objects out and put to good use next time your artist friend comes over.
Some honorary mentions include:
- Homemade food (When there are no more old artworks to give and your artist friend has run out of craft-making ideas, it’s always fun for her to pretend she’s a chef.)
- A plant
- A gift card to FilmBar
- A Phoenix Art Museum membership
- A Heard Museum membership
- A Desert Botanical Gardens membership
- A donation made in your name to Oxfam
- Booze (Case in point: I almost bought a bottle of Japanese whiskey because the packaging was so nice)
For the Artist who has…Not a Lot
Similarly, a little creative thinking can go a long way when buying for an artist friend. Here are a few gift ideas that will bring a bit of joy:
Booze. Not crappy booze but good booze: the kind that might cost more than $10 a bottle. I have never met an artist who doesn’t like to have a drink every now and then. Given the attention most artists give to subtlety and detail, they can be wowed with a gin that’s bubbled, not boiled; whiskey made in 1 gallon batches at a time; or just a well-designed bottle with a wax stamp and an interesting font. This tasteful booze will assist during the next period your artist friend is doubting her self worth and wondering why she labors over this stuff to begin with.
Health Insurance. An idea for those with extra cash. Most artists are self-employed or work part-time which means having to foot the bill for their own insurance. More often, it means going without while hoping the table saw doesn’t ricochet a piece of wood back into your head. While an artist may be morally conflicted by the generous gift of a cashmere sweater, she would greatly appreciate subsidized healthcare and affordable birth control.
Some runner-up options could include:
- A gift certificate for a massage
- A book on some obscure subject they once mentioned
- A gift card to a grocery store (Handy during those “poorness” bouts.)
- Scrap wood
- Decorative paper
- A gift card to their favorite (local) coffee shop
- A blank notebook
- A moss garden
Artist to artist
Artists giving gifts to each other is almost a perfect storm. Maybe one artist doesn’t believe in the rampant commercialism of the holidays so refuses to take part in giving something of monetary value. She will choose, instead, to enact an action on your behalf, carefully documenting it via video, an online slideshow or a series of drawings.
While the other artist may be covertly (not creepily) drafting impromptu sketches of her friend for the past week, which will be given in a well-decorated, sealed envelope.
Remember that shopping for or receiving gifts from an artist will always be slightly more interesting than the Chili’s gift card you might get from your boss or the Christmas socks you might get from your mother. Artists are maybe (likely?) working out some end-of-year issues with those projects that never quite got off the ground but which could be perfect if wrapped with a festive bow. I have resisted sewing, constructing or drawing anything for anyone this year but I have been eyeing up some mason jars and the possibility of canning my own food.
Bottom line: whether you’re an artist of a friend of one, it’s best to be prepared for anything.
Are you gonna be Downtown on Christmas Eve? Well, not everything is boarded up. Hopefully you don’t have last-minute shopping to do. Hopefully you don’t even have any last-minute food to buy for your feast. But, if you’re a-slackin’, or if you’re just looking for something to do on your day off, you do have options.
The Heard Museum Shop (2301 N. Central Ave. in Midtown) is open until 3 p.m., and it’s full of unique American Indian art and gift ideas.
Bunky Boutique (812 N. 3rd St. in Evans Churchill), home to an array of clothes, jewelry and accessories, is open from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., and is a perfect stop for the fashionista in your life.
Made (922 N. 5th St. in Evans Churchill) will be open and dishing out its usual trinkets and artsy goodies for the home. It’s a perfect spot to stock up on stocking stuffers and presents for those people who are entirely too difficult to shop for.
Across Roosevelt Street, Tammie Coe Cakes (610 E. Roosevelt St. in Evans Churchill) is open until 5 p.m., and can save you from arriving to your Christmas destination dessert-less. Though it’s far too late to order custom cakes, Tammie Coe still provides a good selection of ready-to-purchase (and awesomely delicious) sweets.
Hopefully you aren’t stuck cooking the holiday feast, but if you’re stocking up on grub last minute, the Urban Grocery and Wine Bar (14 E. Pierce St. in Evans Churchill) will be open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., and it can provide you with fresh, local fare that’s sure to be a hit at the dinner table.
Need a good thank-you gift to bring to the festivities? Lola Coffee‘s Roosevelt location (1001 N. 3rd Ave.) is open 7 a.m.-2 p.m., and its house-roasted espresso beans complement any meal nicely.
If you get hungry, Local Breeze (606 N. 4th Ave. in Roosevelt), just a few blocks from Lola, is open for brunch and lunch until 2:30 p.m.
And, if you need a beer after a hectic day of preparation, Lost Leaf (914 N. 5th St. in Evans Churchill) opens at 5 p.m., and it’s open on Christmas, too!
Know of more places Downtown that are open during the holidays? Comment and share!
Tis the season for friends, family and fun (and a little shopping). Come and experience all these and more at Get-Your Phx-Mas, the swingingest Christmas event this side of Vegas! The event, part of the monthly Get Your PHX events, will be held on December 17 at Phoenix Metro Retro from 5:30-8:30 p.m.
This special holiday installment of Get Your PHX will feature catered food and drinks, plus live music from special guests Surfside IV, a local band that plays swingin’ sounds, circa 1965. To help offset the costs of the food, drinks and band, guests are asked to bring a $5 or $10 donation.
The goal of Get Your PHX is to highlight and support those who pioneer new restaurants, stores, bars and event spaces in Central Phoenix. Organizer Ken Clark wants to provide a boost to business owners who “put their sweat, tears and wealth on the line to make life great Downtown.” It is also a chance to meet others who want to get the most out of Phoenix.
Phoenix Metro Retro is an amazing mid-century modern furniture store that is owned and operated by Heidi and Doug Abrahamson. The store offers a wide selection of vintage mid-century modern furniture and home furnishings at affordable prices. Heidi is also an accomplished silversmith, whose modern-style jewelry can be found at select stores throughout the Valley. She operates a studio inside the Metro Retro building.