The Five Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: HGO's World Premiering Opera

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Love it or hate it, there doesn't seem to be any middle ground when it comes to the inventive style of steampunk fashion. This is the weekend to celebrate both the Victorian era and the retro-futuristic attire at this weekend's Steampunk Ball at Galveston's Dickens on the Strand. We also have HGO's world premiering opera based on It's a Wonderful Life (finally!), and a pair of holiday concerts courtesy of the Houston Symphony and the Houston Pride Band. We're rounding out the weekend with a return to the stage by Crumpet the Elf, a.k.a. Todd Waite, in Alley's production of The Santaland Diaries.

It starts with a man contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve after a life filled with disappointments. It’s a wonder why no one before this recognized the material in the Frank Capra movie classic It’s a Wonderful Life would be perfect for opera. Houston Grand Opera has turned to composer Jake Heggie (Moby Dick, Dead Man Walking) and librettist Gene Scheer (Moby Dick) for the two-act world premiere. “It’s an absolutely beautiful treatment of a story that is very familiar, but quite different from the film,” says tenor William Burden, who sings the George Bailey role. Not willing to reveal any of the surprises in this new version, Burden promises “wonderful theatrical magic.” And still a happy ending. “Audiences should be excited about this. It's a very joyous addition to their early holiday experience,” Burden says. We are excited, making this debut one of our recommendations for Friday night. Sung in English with surtitles.

7:30 p.m. Friday. Continuing 7 p.m. December 6, 8, 9, 13, 15 and 17; 2:30 p.m. December 4 and 11. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $48 to $127.

The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fans are clearly divided into Team Josh and Team Greg, as Rebecca Bunch’s heart careens between both paramours. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t look like Greg (Santino Fontana) is returning for season three, though the talented performer (he voiced Prince Hans in Frozen) stays busy with other pursuits. In his first year at the helm of the Houston Symphony’s Very Merry Pops, Principal POPS Conductor Designate Steven Reineke is putting his own stamp on the festivities, this year with the help of Fontana and his wife, actress/singer Jessica. The concert, mixing sacred and secular, includes standards such as “O Holy Night” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Reineke’s own “Holiday Hits Medley” and soon-to-be classic “Yes, Virginia.” Reineke admits it’s “a bit of a sing-along,” but there’s an important question at heart — why doesn’t the spirit of the season last? “You’re walking down the street, people may be a little friendlier, might smile or shake a hand a little more readily,” says Reineke. “Why can’t we live like this all year?” This feel-good evening with Broadway and screen stars (and newlyweds) the Fontanas is our other pick for Friday night.

8 p.m. Friday. Continuing 8 p.m. December 3; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. December 4. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. $25 to $138.

Whether you’re a Scrooge or a Tiny Tim, the 43rd Annual Dickens on the Strand Victorian Holiday Festival 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. That simple event now includes street performers, craft vendors, great food and unique events like Albert’s Whimsical Whisker Revue and the Victorian-era bed races. “There’s a ton going on,” says Wright. “As crowd favorites go, the costume contest is always super-popular. There’s a beard and mustache competition on Saturday. And parades.” And, Wright notes, a word to the wise. “If you come in costume, you get in for half-price,” he whispers, adding, “I’m biased, but being at Dickens in costume is the only way to experience it.” The temperatures are dropping, so put on extra layers of clothing and check the website before heading out this Saturday; the organizers are adjusting the location of certain events based on weather conditions.

10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. Also 5 to 9 p.m. December 2 and noon to 6 p.m. December 4. 2300 Strand, Galveston. For information, call 409-765-7834 or visit galvestonhistory.org. Free to $15.

Buckle up, Santa. With apologies to Rudolph, we do want to inform you there’s no need for that antiquated sleigh this year. As the saying goes, out with the old and in with the new. Soup up the ride with the Houston Pride Band and tool around town with its upcoming concert: Yuletide Ride. The most wonderful time of the year just wouldn’t be complete without the music that makes the season so cheery. And adding a 740-horsepower engine wouldn’t hurt. Yes, Sunny 99.1 plays the music ad nauseam, and one can’t crank up the beats without a tricked-out sound system, but there’s no substitute for the real thing: a live band playing all the best hits of the holidays. Get into the mood with the band as it moves and grooves with all the favorites, including Christmas, Hanukkah and other holiday melodies. This celebration of the season by one of Houston's most talented institutions makes our list for Saturday night.

7 p.m. Saturday. The MATCH, 3400 Main. For information, call 832-356-7476 or visit houstonprideband.org. $5 to $10.

Crumpet the Elf has returned in all his green-velvet-with-yellow-and-orange-trim-costumed glory. And as once again envisioned by Alley Theatre company member Todd Waite, that is some very tall glory. The Santaland Diaries (not for kids) is once again playing out on the downstairs Neuhaus stage at the Alley. Based on the book by David Sedaris, it tells the story of an unemployed fan of soap opera stars who takes a job at Macy’s during the Christmas season as one of the elves assisting Santa. Along the way he meets an assortment of parents, children and co-workers — not all of them warmhearted — as he negotiates the season while helping kids sit on Santa’s lap. Waite adds a special something to the proceedings as it's pretty usual for him to respond to audience call-outs along the way with topical references; we can't wait to see what he does, making this our choice for Sunday afternoon.

2:30 p.m. Sunday. Continuing 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. December 3, 10 and 17; 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and December 18, 20 and 27; 2:30 p.m. December 11, 24 and 31. Through December 31. 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $30 to $50.

Sam Byrd, Margaret Downing, Natalie de la Garza and Vic Shuttee contributed to this post.

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