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Staging the Holidays 

From Cole Porter to mythic India, a North Coast cornucopia

Over the past several seasons we've had our Charles Dickens' yuletide, our Lewis Carroll holidays and last year's recession-conscious Christmas. This year's holiday stage shows have more variety and less of a coincidental theme. A bit of the recession still lingers in two musicals with roots in the 1930s, but there are also holiday fantasies and even a love story from India. What they have in common is that they're colorful, musical and family-friendly.

First up is North Coast Repertory Theatre, opening the classic Cole Porter musical Anything Goes this Thursday, Nov. 15. Like many movies of the period, this 1934 show is an escapist comedy involving love and high jinks among the hilariously wealthy. This time some romantic criminals are added to the mix-ups aboard an ocean liner, with Cole Porter tunes that are simultaneously topical and timeless. The show's latest Tony Award-winning Broadway revival was in 2011.

Lauren Wieland directs the NCRT production featuring Eric Standifird, Keili Simmons Marble (also the dance director), Molly Severdia (also the music director), Clayton Cook and David Simms. Anything Goes plays for a solid month of weekends, Nov. 15-Dec. 15. Tickets and information: 442-6278. www.ncrt.net.

A different 1930s is the setting for the 1977 musical Annie, which opens at Ferndale Repertory Theatre Friday, Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving. With a story based on the popular 1930s comic strip, it's set in the Great Depression, featuring an 11-year-old orphan heroine, a mean orphanage director, a beneficent millionaire and a singing-and-dancing President Franklin D. Roosevelt. And the story ends on Christmas.

With music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, Annie was an immediate sensation and has been a theatrical staple ever since. The latest Broadway revival just opened earlier this month, providing New York critics with opportunities to muse on the politics of rich and poor and optimism after the hurricane.

But basically this is a big, very child-friendly musical that Ferndale will produce with a cast of 24, featuring Craig Benson as Daddy Warbucks, Andrea Zvaleko as the evil Miss Hannigan, Kristi Peifer as Daddy's faithful personal assistant and Jeff Kieser as the comic villain, Rooster. Ariel Vergen and Marina Benson will play Annie.

Kate Haley directs, with choreography by Linda Maxwell, scenic design by Calder Johnson, costumes by Taylor Depew, lighting by Greta Stockwell and music direction by Justin Ross, who also conducts the live band. Annie runs Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons from Nov. 23 through Dec. 16. 1-800-838-3006. www.ferndalerep.org.

Also opening Nov. 23 is the traditional touring Dell'Arte holiday show for all ages, which begins its run in Blue Lake and travels up and down 101 from Scotia to Cave Junction, Ore. for mostly free shows. This year it's an original fantasy called The Fish In My Head, created by the ensemble of seven actor/musician/acrobats: Janessa Johnsrude, Ryan Musil, Jacob Trillo, Meridith Ann Baldwin (all seen in last summer's Mary Jane: The Musical), Rux Cantir, Anson Kalani Smith and Anthony Arnista.

Directed and designed by Ronlin Foreman, it's a fish story about transformations and adventure that starts out in the humdrum but escapes to the bottom of the sea and off to the moon, and back.

Opening weekend performances at the Carlo Theatre in Blue Lake (Friday and Saturday, Nov. 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m.) are free, although audiences are asked to contribute non-perishable food items to be donated to local food banks. That goes for the touring shows, too, which reach an estimated 7,000-10,000 people, many of them school children. The Fish in My Head ends its run with a return to Blue Lake Dec. 13-16, with tickets priced at $10 and $8.

Advance tickets are recommended for all shows and are available at Wildberries Marketplace, Pierson Building Center and Moore's Sleep World or by calling 707-668-5663, ext. 20. www.dellarte.com.

The Happy Family returns to the Arcata Playhouse for another holiday show, beginning Thursday, Nov. 29. This year another family member appears, Frank Happy's twin brother, Larry Welcome. The traditional Playhouse combination of comedy, music, mistaken identity and holiday tips (and elves, don't forget the elves) all join forces in The Larry Welcome Happy Holiday Extravaganza.

Lynne and Bob Wells are back (Bob has a dual role), along with Jacqueline Dandeneau, David Ferney, Amy Tetzlaff, Amelia Davide, Cora Dandeneau and Jeremy Santos. Tim Randles, Tim Gray and Marla Joy provide the music, and in another tradition, there are a couple of different special guests for each performance.

The Arcata Playhouse holiday show runs two weekends: Thursday-Saturday Nov. 29-Dec. 1, and Friday and Saturday Dec. 7 and 8 at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Dec. 9. 822-1575. www.arcataplayhouse.org.

Also opening on Nov. 29 and running two weekends, HSU Department of Theatre, Film & Dance presents the epic love story from India, Shakuntala. Written by the classic Sanskrit dramatist Kalidasa, this story of a noble king's love for a half-divine woman has fairytale magic, demons and spectacle. But it's seldom seen on stage. Playwright and HSU department chair Margaret Thomas Kelso adapted it especially for this production, directed by Rae Robison. Rose Gutierrez and Mark Teeter head a cast of 20. Brian Post composed the original music. "This is a family-oriented show," said Kelso, "so we've scheduled it for the holiday season. There's singing, dancing, masks and shadow puppets in an exotic, romantic, magical and fanciful story."

Shakuntala is performed in the Gist Hall Theatre Thursdays through Saturdays Nov. 29-Dec. 1 and Dec. 6-8, at 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on Dec. 2 and 9. 826-3928. http://HSUStage.blogspot.com.

  Box:

The Fish In My Head Humboldt schedule:

Nov. 23/24, 7:30 p.m. Carlo Theatre, Blue Lake

Nov. 26, 6 p.m. Yurok Tribal Headquarters, Klamath

Nov. 27, 7:30 p.m. McKinleyville High School Auditorium

Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m. Van Duzer Theatre, HSU

Nov. 30, 7 p.m. Trinidad Elementary School

Dec. 4, 6:30 p.m. Mateel Community Center, Redway, ($10/$5)

Dec. 5, 7:30 p.m. Winema Theater, Scotia

Dec. 6, 5 p.m. Orick Community Center

Dec. 7, 12:30 p.m. Burnt Ranch School

Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m. Eureka Theater

Dec. 13-16, 7:30 p.m. Dell'Arte Carlo Theatre ($10/$8)

Unless otherwise indicated all shows free.

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William Kowinski

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