The Five Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Spirits and Snowflakes

The Houston Symphony is presenting an all-Mozart program this Thanksgiving weekend and the Alley is digging into the spirit of Christmas past to bring us this season's holiday classic, A Christmas Carol. Zaniness is afoot with Spontaneous Smattering's overnight playwriting extravaganza and, if you're in the mood for quirky, check out the dystopian cyber-drama over at Catastrophic. Last but not least, and for the first time in 29 years, the Houston Ballet is performing a new version of The Nutcracker (this one choreographed by Artistic Director Stanton Welch) and it premieres this Friday with snowflakes, sword fights and dancing dolls.

Houston Ballet is once again presenting The Nutcracker, the magical holiday ballet of a young girl’s dreams and dolls and toys coming to life — but this year with a significant difference. Principal Dancer Melody Mennite takes on the role once again but has been practicing new steps in the much-anticipated Stanton Welch choreographed version that is premiering at the Wortham Theater Center. We've been talking about this all summer and it premieres this weekend, making it one of our picks for Friday night. Clara retains her bright and bubbly character equipped with a healthy imagination, as always, Mennite says. But more than just steps has been changed. “She has more of an arc in her character and I think that she grows with the ballet as the story moves forward. She’s very much a part of propelling it forward. She’s definitely not a side-liner in this version,” Mennite says. “I don’t think it’s just a ballet. It’s become a family tradition for a lot of people.”

7:30 p.m. Friday. Continuing 7:30 p.m. December 9, 13-15; 2 and 7:30 p.m. November 26-27 and December 3-4, 10-11, 16-18, 20-23, 26-27; 2 p.m. December 24. 501 Texas. For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit $39 to $154.

Song About Himself is an odd quirky play, but if you let yourself be drawn into it, let yourself be seduced by the rhythms, by the inventive performances, by the oddness of it all, by the rush of words, you'll fall right into its arms. We're in some bleak dystopian time – obviously not too far off – in a virtual place called YouSpake, where members come to “back and forth” in “lengthy posts” with each other. That's what Carol (Tamarie Cooper) desperately longs for, aches for. The play finds its focus, and its heart, when Tod (a rumpled Noel Bowers) logs into the chat room. The Host is not pleased with this intruder and attempts to delete him. Tod is Carol's lifeline and she demands he be let back in. She needs another person to talk to. Love lost, then found, then probably lost again. It's a journey that echoes with Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, Isaac Asimov, and Mark Zuckerberg. If you only know Cooper from her annual summer musical vaudevilles, you will be astounded by the depth, verisimilitude, and searing ache that she brings to Carol. Bowers has never been used to greater advantage as he is here as sad-sack mailman Tod. In shapeless hoodie with watch cap, whether he's an avatar of the Host or some lumpy virtual reality, he will break your heart with his yearning, wanting, awkward Everyman. Playwright Maher may be many things – provocateur, innovator, absurdist – but, first and foremost, he is a wordsmith. He gives words flight. His inventive riffs get our attention. Song About Himself, soaring aerodynamically via The Catastrophic Theatre, is his latest fantasia produced from the theater company that performs him as if having an affair with him. They adore him, and want us, too, to fall in love. They succeed. The positive reviews for this cerebral drama make this our other recommendation for Friday night.

8 p.m. Friday. Continuing 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Through December 3. The MATCH, 3400 Main. For information, call 713-521-4533 or visit Pay what you can; suggested price is $35.

Tradition abounds as Turkey Day approaches, but nothing delivers a lesson in history like the Houston Symphony’s A Mozart Thanksgiving, which includes Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major and Symphony No. 38, Prague. The production comes with a twist for modern audiences. “I am both the conductor and piano soloist,” says guest conductor Jeffrey Kahane. “People are amazed to see someone playing and conducting at the same time. This is how music in the 18th century was done. The soloist and conductor were the same person until the early part of the 19th century.” Talk about the ultimate Throwback Thursday. After all the tryptophan, football games and leftovers have concluded, relieve your food hangover and give thanks for Mozart’s most recognized music. A Mozart Thanksgiving is one of the Symphony's season highlights, putting it on our list for this Saturday.

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit $25 to $136.

This one’s a doozy for lovers of side-splitting laughter and nonconformist theater. Even though it’s the ninth Spontaneous Smattering, local playwright Bryan Maynard says this year’s The Whole Nine Yards isn’t getting any easier. “I like to call this ‘contained chaos,’” Maynard says. “On Friday night, all of the chosen writers gather together and randomly draw genres and a cast of actors. At that point, the writers are released to go off and create a brand-new ten-minute play — overnight.” The actors and directors have just the day to find props and costumes, rehearse and get ready for Saturday night’s performances. The annual fund-raiser for Cone Man Running Productions and The Landing Theatre Company benefits the Houston Food Bank (each canned or nonperishable food item knocks a dollar off the ticket price; limit five), and they are dedicating this year’s show to the late Scott Holmes. This show is always a hoot, making it our other recommendation for Saturday night drama.

7 and 9:45 p.m. Saturday. The Landing Theatre, 1119 Providence. For information, call 281-972-5897 or visit $18.

We’re coming to that time of year when theaters around the country, including the Alley, mount sparkling productions of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. In the past 12 years, Alley company member Chris Hutchison says he’s been in it 11 times. Multiply that by about 50 performances a year and you’re up to 550 times onstage in professional performances running through the same script. “Once you’re in front of the audience, you see people who are seeing it for the first time so you reinvest yourself in it,” he says. For this year’s A Christmas Carol — A Ghost Story of Christmas, Hutchison is back as Bob Cratchit, the lowly clerk who works for Ebenezer Scrooge and tries to keep his family afloat. The money that the Alley makes from putting on the classic work helps a lot. “It enables us to do so many of the other things we do during the course of the year that are not as traditional,” Hutchison says. But there’s also its intrinsic value, he adds. “It’s great literature. It’s a great story. The holidays beg for traditions, especially with the way the world is changing.” Here’s your chance to keep a good one going with two performances this Sunday.

2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Continuing 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and November 25, December 21, 23, 26 and 29; 7:30 p.m. December 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 20, 22 and 28. Through December 29. 615 Texas. For information call 713?220?5700 or visit $30-$70.

Sam Byrd, Margaret Downing, 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