The Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Pub Crawls & Dickens Do-over

We're knee-deep in the holiday season, and this weekend's line-up reflects the spirit. This year's Panto play at Stages is the best yet – a colorful, toe-tapping extravaganza – but it's not the only bright spot in our weekend. In the ultimate of do-overs, Galveston's popular Dickens on the Strand is returning for two days of Victorian fun, and we've got a pair of Christmas attire pub crawls lined up for Saturday afternoon. There's also a creative treatment of one of Shakespeare's best over at 4th Wall, and Bayou Bend's amazing Christmas Village opens this Saturday.

For seasons Stages Repertory Theatre's Panto productions have been nearly unwatchable, exercises in tedium, bad puns and faux hilarity. But something wonderful has happened this year with Panto Wonderful Wizard. Could it be Rutherford Cravens' bouncy script and lyrics, director Carolyn Johnson's clever eye for detail, Kristin Warren's toe-tapping choreography, Maryann Williams' Broadway belt as Dorothy, or the incredible sight of Kyle Sturdivant as Dolinda, all bosomy perfection, surrounded by bubbles as he/she galumphs down the stairs, lighting up each step as he treads? It's a silly knockoff of MGM's Oz, but contained within the inanity is a pretty good show. The kids love the pre-show chalk doodling on the wall; they boo enthusiastically at the Wicked Witch (Kay Allmand, with that dead-accurate Margaret Hamilton cackle); and seem generally interested in Kristin Warren's exuberant dance numbers. Meanwhile, the little patrons have been sugar-highed and popcorn-smeared, while their doting parents have been buzzed on blueberry punch and pomegranate martinis. Everybody's high and noisy when the show begins, and once Dorothy and her three intrepid adventurers (Joe Serpa Daniels, Leo the lion; Jeremy Gee, semi-Tin Man; Cameron Khalil Stokes, substitute Strawman) sally forth, the high maintains itself. The reviews are in, and Panto looks like a must-see for this Friday night.

7 p.m. Friday. Continuing 7 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and December 20 and 27; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. December 24 and 31. Through December 31. 3201 Allen Parkway. For information, call 713-527-0123 or visit stagestheatre.com. $21 to $74.

We're doubling the pleasure and doubling the fun this Saturday, with two different pub crawls in town. The Christmas Ale Pub Crawl, courtesy of Saint Arnold Brewing Company, moves back to its original stomping grounds in the Rice Village. Point A is Under the Volcano where you'll pick up a punch card and your first pour; what happens next is up to you. Beginning at 3 p.m., just be sure to visit The Big Easy, Kelvin Arms, The Gorgeous Gael and The Ginger Man, making sure to end up at Little Woodrow's by 6 p.m. Any crawler who makes it to all six stops gets a Saint Arnold pint glass, and that includes your non-drinking designated driver. And remember, Christmas attire is encouraged, so don those Santa hats.

2 to 6 p.m. Saturday. Under the Volcano, 2349 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-686-9494 or visit saintarnold.com/rice-village-pub-crawl. No charge to participate other than the cost of beverages at each location.

Admit it. There’s something sinfully enjoyable about busting out our tackiest sweaters. And there’s no better cure for viewing the tacky garments than downing a few brewskies during a pub crawl. And the only thing better than that is putting on the Nancy Drew hat for some sleuthing during a scavenger hunt. For all these reasons and more, TX Pub Crawls is hosting its annual Ugly Sweater Scavenger Crawl. “There are five bars with a set order and amount of time. There are five clues written in riddle format, and you have to figure it out,” says owner Nick Petersen. Want to know the starting point? That’s a mystery too. Bedecked revelers need to register to get the 411 on the locations. But don’t show up empty-handed: The event organizers are hosting a toy drive to benefit Toys For Tots as part of the entry fee. The proof is in the pictures; this pub crawl looks like a blast, making it another one of our picks for Saturday.

3 to 8 p.m. Saturday. For information, visit txpubcrawls.com. $20 to $25.

Mother Nature had her way with us last weekend, dampening the fun over in Galveston. We can't always count on second chances, but this time the odds are in our favor because the 43rd Annual Dickens on the Strand Victorian Holiday Festival is returning for two more days of fun. Admission is free on Fezziwig's Friday, with specialty acts like Edgar Allen Poe, Bruce Manners and the popular Jig Is Up! The excitement really starts to build on Saturday, with Bah Humbug! - A One Man's Christmas Carol at 10 a.m., The Queen's Parade at 2 p.m., the costume contest at 3 p.m., Victorian bed races on the Strand at 4:30 p.m. and Pickwick's Lanternlight Parade at 5:30 p.m. Whether you’re a Scrooge or a Tiny Tim, this popular event could be the elixir to any “bah, humbug!” sentiments. “It initially started as a potluck dinner. Just something to bring attention to the Strand district, which was not as it is now,” says Will Wright, marketing director for the Galveston Historical Foundation. “There’s a ton going on. As crowd favorites go, the costume contest is always super-popular,” says Wright. “I’m biased, but being at Dickens in costume is the only way to experience it.”

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Also 5 to 9 p.m. December 9 (free admission). 2300 Strand, Galveston. For information, call 409-765-7834 or visit galvestonhistory.org. $5 to $8.

4th Wall Theatre Company, née Stark Naked, decided to eschew Christmas altogether this season, so it's Shakespearean comedy instead. Inspired by the company's association with New York's Bedlam Theatre Company (last season's sparkling Saint Joan was a joint production), five actors play all the characters, doubling, tripling their roles. It's certainly one way to present the parade that Shakespeare so proudly flaunts in Much Ado About Nothing, but when so adroitly presented by the 4th Wall players, it works like a charm. Philip Lehl (Benedick) may then become old Leonato, talking to himself after twirling around and spryly dancing passed the walker that Leonato uses. Philip Hays, as Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, introduces himself as his brother Don John, an early Iago, out for mischief for no good reason, just by twisting himself into semi-hunchback. It takes no time at all to get what these fine actors are doing and, through Shakespeare's radiant language, all is clear and concisely done. All ends happily, as quarreling Beatrice and Benedick, who have forsworn love and marriage throughout, finally marry, as do the bland Claudio and Hero. 4th Wall is never bland, however, and their warm, loving performance of this masterpiece is well-nigh a perfect holiday treat, making this one of our recommendations for Sunday.

3 p.m. Sunday. Continuing 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and December 19 (pay what you can); 3 p.m. Sundays. December 1 through December 24. Studio 101, Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring. For information, call 832-786-1849 or visit 4thwalltheatreco.com. $15 to $49.

One fateful night, Santa Claus crashed his sleigh onto the grounds of a historic mansion. Only Rudolph stayed behind, and now it’s up to us to find the rest of the reindeer. Detective work is only part of the fun at Christmas Village at Bayou Bend: There’s a faux snowball play area, a visit by Jingles the live reindeer (December 16-23), and some holiday magic courtesy of actor Todd Waite, Alley’s Crumpet the Elf. As creative director, he’s imagined themed tours, holiday decor and theatrical effects in the former home of Ima Hogg. “We’re bringing back the very successful 3-D video of Santa trying to get into the house,” says Bonnie Campbell, Bayou Bend’s director. Over in the stained glass and mirrored spiegeltent are model trains — so elaborate they took more than 1,000 hours to assemble — running through themed villages while a snowman blows snow. The event was so popular in its inaugural year that they’ve added timed ticketing for tours of the mansion. So put on your detective hats and come view the lights this Sunday evening.

5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Continuing 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily; closed December 24, 25 and 31. December 10 through January 1. 6003 Memorial. For information, visit mfah.org/christmasvillage. Free to $23.

Sam Byrd, D. L. Groover and Vic Shuttee contributed to this post.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney