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THROUGH 12/17: Careful Christmas Connections: NC Theatre’s Elf and Theatre Raleigh’s The 1940s RADIO HOUR

A snow globe in a theater? A theater in a snow globe? The crafty – and strategically minimal – set that placed North Carolina Theatre‘s kicky, caffeinated production of Elf – The Musical within a gold-plaqued bubble wasn’t the only element that foregrounded the show’s size and proportions as the opening show of the company’s 2023-2024 season. Its staging in the relatively intimate confines of Fletcher Opera Theater (while Theatre in the Park‘s annual stand of A Christmas Carol held the mainstage at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, next door) also spoke of an organization still struggling to find new norms and rightsize its operations in the wake of an economic upheaval brought on by the COVID pandemic that has threatened theatre companies, small and large, across the country.

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Raleigh Youth Choir Brings Joy to the Season

Truth be told, I have struggled to find my Christmas spirit this season. That changed the minute I walked through the large wooden doors of Edenton Street United Methodist Church for the Raleigh Youth Choir‘s “Carols of Christmas” concert on Friday night. As nervous parents ushered their singers to the appropriate group, and smiling children eagerly lined up outside the sanctuary, I found myself instantly caught up in the excitement.

The Raleigh Youth Choir has been revitalized in recent years, transitioning from the Raleigh Boychoir to include children of all ages and genders. Their DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Advocacy) statement acknowledges the desire to “honor each chorister, their background, and the fullness of their potential.” This was evident in spades on Friday night. The young musicians were the highlight from start to finish, beginning with the Beach String Quartet, a student string ensemble comprised of youth from the NC Chamber Music Institute (Owen Beal and Adrian McCall, violins; Max Owen, viola; Cashier Books, cello; and Luke Tychansky, bass). As artistic director Jeremy Tucker welcomed the audience, he specifically called attention to Dr. Fran Page, for whom the Page Singers are named, and she received perhaps the largest applause of the evening. Read about all of the Raleigh Youth Choir’s conductors here, and ensembles here.

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THROUGH 12/17: Lunar Light on a Theatrical Cryptogram: Burning Coal Theatre’s Moonlight

A friend of mine has a taste for the higher – and more twisted – end of jigsaw puzzles, where bespoke creations can easily run into the thousands of dollars. Imagine eagerly dumping out several hundred intricately scroll-sawn chips of wood – only to discover they’re all exactly the same color. When assembled, they create an unbroken visual field of silver, red, black, or white. (For a fee, you can even forego the paint, and try to reassemble the original surface based on the polished wood grain’s details, alone.)

It gets stranger than that: jigsaw puzzles whose irregular borders offer no straight or corner edges for a frame, and those in which bluffs have been added – pieces that look like they belong, but don’t actually fit anywhere. For my money, though, the most fiendish sets are the ones with no photo on the box. Only a title and written description of the pattern guide the players in assembling the puzzle.

Theatergoers find themselves in a similar circumstance with Harold Pinter‘s Moonlight, December’s offering at Burning Coal Theatre Company. The 1993 drama, which marked the Nobel laureate’s first full-length play after his landmark 1978 work Betrayal, embeds a family’s troubled history in a theatrical cryptogram.

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