What’s the sound in the distance? It’s still too soon for Santa’s ho-ho-hoing. Ditto the clickclack of reindeer hooves on rooftops.
No, it’s the sweet cha-ching of box offices across the Valley as performing arts groups head into the most lucrative time of the year — from just after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, when the bevy of "Nutcrackers" and "A Christmas Carols" and holiday tune revues bolster arts groups’ otherwise struggling bottom lines.
Ballet Arizona earns more than half of its annual ticket sales revenue from its 24 performances of "The Nutcracker" in Phoenix, while Mesa’s Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre will pull in 25 percent of its seasonal sales, or $1 million, during the run of its holiday revue.
That money comes from audience members with credit cards already welllubricated from holiday shopping; families looking for ways to spend time out of the house; and parents hoping to keep children on winter break entertained.
Attending arts events, says Mollie Lakin-Hayes, acting executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, is "a way to bring family together and to build a tradition or relive old ones. That’s something arts groups really try to embrace."
For newcomers spending their first holiday seasons in the Valley — or natives looking for new winter traditions — here are the holiday productions we’ve come to embrace.
The battle of the "Christmas Carol" all-stars
ACTORS THEATRE, DEC. 10-24 AT HERBERGER THEATER CENTER, HALE CENTRE THEATRE, DEC. 1-23
Come December in the snowless Valley, audiences can count on more productions of Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol" than you can shake Tiny Tim’s crutch at.
The biggest and most lavish is Actors Theatre’s, pictured, with its scads of special effects — a Marley flying on chains, a Ghost of Christmas Future that’s a giant disembodied skull — and an adaptation, by Actors Theatre honcho Matthew Wiener and Tribune writer Michael Grady, with musical numbers by Alan Ruch, that plays up the story’s more whimsical side.
(It’s not a profit-maker for Actors Theatre, Wiener is quick to note: It’s more often a break-even production that introduces new and younger audiences to the company’s work.)
Gilbert’s Hale Centre Theatre has its own "Carol," one we’re terribly fond of — a more straight-ahead telling of Dickens’ tale with some of the best community theater acting in the Valley, like Dorman Smith as curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge.
DETAILS: "A Christmas Carol" by Actors Theatre at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix, (602) 252-8497. Opens Dec. 10, runs various dates and times, closing Dec. 24. Tickets: $22.50-$42. "A Christmas Carol" at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Ave., Gilbert, (480) 497-1181. Opens Thursday, runs 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, closing Dec. 23. Tickets: $20-$23.
Valley symphonies "Ring in the Season" with Handel’s "Messiah"
MESA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, DEC. 17 AT MESA ARTS CENTER, PHOENIX SYMPHONY, DEC. 9-15 AT VARIOUS LOCATIONS
The Mesa Symphony Orchestra and Phoenix Symphony offer the sacred melodies of George Frideric Handel, with performances of "Messiah" at local churches and the Mesa Arts Center in December.
The "Ringing In the Season" show features the 65-member Mesa Symphony Orchestra joined by a 160-member choir of local singers, conducted by Dr. Glenn Bennett of Mesa Community College. The performance will include selections from "Messiah," which Handel composed in 1741-42 as a work containing deeply spiritual texts from the Old and New Testament, written in an operatic style.
The 75-member Phoenix Symphony, accompanied by the symphony’s Chamber Orchestra and Chorus, will partner with nine churches Valleywide to bring Handel’s music into Valley communities. The performances sold out last year; symphony officials recommend buying your tickets early.
Details: Mesa Symphony Orchestra’s "Ringing in the Season," 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17 in the Ikeda Theater, Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St. Tickets are $15-$25. (480) 827-2143 or www.mesasymphony.org.
Handel’s "Messiah" by Phoenix Symphony, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at Velda Rose United Methodist Church, 5540 E. Main St., Mesa; at 3 p.m. Dec. 11 at Pinnacle Presbyterian Church, 25150 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale; and at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15 at Scottsdale Bible Church, 7601 E. Shea Blvd. Tickets are $28 for all performances. (602) 495-1999 or www.phoenixsymphony.org.
KTAR’s "A Christmas Carol"
DEC. 16 AT HERBERGER THEATER CENTER
Valley on-air and onstage personality Pat McMahon — of "Wallace & Ladmo" fame — channels his humbug side to play Scrooge in the 21st annual radio play of "A Christmas Carol" at the Herberger Theater Center and broadcast live on KTAR (620 AM). Mum’s the word on which local celebrities will join McMahon on stage for the live broadcast (which is repeated on the station Christmas Day), but Alice Cooper, Stevie Nicks and Hugh Downs have performed in years past. The show is free to attend, but the station collects donations for its KTAR Cares charities.
Details: 1 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix. Free to the public. Visit www.ktar.com for details.
Phoenix Boys Choir’s "Holiday Traditions"
DEC. 16 AT MESA ARTS CENTER AND DEC. 18 AT CHAPARRAL CHRISTIAN CHURCH
Imagine the voices of 200 boys and men in the Phoenix Boys Choir, singing international favorites "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "Angels We Have Heard on High" from European composers, "Las Posadas," the traditional Mexican processional and songs, "Beams of Gentle Light," a Hanukkah song from Israel, and American classics such as "Sleigh Ride." Guest artist Mariachi Corazon de Phoenix will accompany the choir on "Las Posadas."
Details: Phoenix Boys Choir’s"Holiday Traditions" concert, 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 16 at Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St.; and at 5 p.m. on Dec. 18 at Chaparral Christian Church, 6451 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale. $10-$30 for reserved seats, with discounted group packages available. (602) 264-5328 or www.boyschoir.org.
14th annual Christmas Mariachi Festival
DEC. 10 AT AMERICA WEST ARENA
This popular festival showcases some of the best mariachi groups in the world, bringing the Christmas traditions of Mexico to the Valley. Featured bands include Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, formed in Jaliso, Mexico in 1898; Mariachi Sol de México de José Hernández; and Mariachi Cielo de México. Grammy-winning Texas-born singer Vikki Carr and Mexican recording star Humberto Herrera will also perform, and Ballet Folklórico San Juan will dance.
Details: 7 p.m. on Dec. 10, America West Arena, 201 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix. $37.50-$67.50. (480) 784-4444 or
Ballet Arizona’s "Nutcracker"
DEC. 9 AT PHOENIX SYMPHONY HALL
It’s the story of a child’s doll coming to life as you’ve never seen it before: With magic tricks, a tree that "grows" and snow falling onstage. Ballet Arizona and a cast of 150 schoolchildren will perform "The Nutcracker" to live music of Tchaikovsky played by the Phoenix Symphony. The ballet’s artistic director, Ib Andersen, choreographed the work.
This is the 20th year Ballet Arizona has performed "The Nutcracker," and the first time it will be shown in the newly renovated Phoenix Symphony Hall.
Details: Ballet Arizona’s "Nutcracker," various dates and times, opens Dec. 9, closes Dec. 27. Phoenix Symphony Hall, 225 E. Adams St. Tickets are $10-$102. Group discounts are offered for teachers and students in kindergarten through grade 12. Ballet Arizona’s box office, (602) 381-1096; or Ticketmaster, (480) 784-4444 and www.ticketmaster.com.
"Spirit of the Season"
BROADWAY PALM DINNER THEATRE, VARIOUS DATES AND TIMES, CLOSING DEC. 25
Mesa’s Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre is still shaking off the bad vibes of its poorly received "Holidazzle" holiday revue two years ago (it was too jazzy, not traditional enough), but the Palm is back to tinkering with more eclectic spirits in its latest holiday revue, combining the usual yuletide carols with a pinch of Sunday gospel — and even a few hand-bell numbers.
We caught a run of the show last weekend and found the first act lacking, but the second half dazzling.
Details: Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, 5247 E. Brown Road, Mesa. Show runs 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. Sunday, select 1:15 matinees Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday performances, closing Dec. 25. $41-$50, includes buffet meal; $25 for show only; $20 for children.