Listen: Help yourself to the MPR News holiday arts smorgasbord

The MPR News arts team guest hosts a special holiday hour of MPR News with Angela Davis. Arts reporters Jacob Aloi and Alex Cipolle, and arts editor Max Sparber, talk with performers, show directors, each other, and listeners about some of Minnesota’s most distinctive seasonal art and culture offerings.

Guests include Steven C. Anderson, a Minnesota-based musician; Chris Berry, Penumbra arts director; Peter Brosius, outgoing artistic director at Children's Theatre Company; Nat Fuller, a Minnesota-based actor in the Guthrie Theater’s “A Christmas Carol;” Joseph Haj, artistic director of The Guthrie Theater; Russ King, who plays Miss Richfield 1981 in “Bad Advice for Christmas;” Kevin Kling, a performer/storyteller from “Tales from the Charred Underbelly of the Yule Log;” Tod Petersen, performer/cocreator of “A Christmas Carole Petersen;” Janelle Ranek, performer and co-creator of “Letters to Santa ... Shaken, Not Stirred;” and Tyrone Schenk, founder and president of Minnesota Krampus.   

Program includes music and performance clips.


2023 MBJA Eric Sevareid Award, first place in Lifestyle or Specialty Programming - Large Market Radio category


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["HAIL, HAIL, LION OF JUDAH" PLAYING] (SINGING) Hail, hail, Lion of Judah

Hail, hail, Lion of Judah

How wonderful you are.

JACOB ALOI: Good morning. I'm Jacob Aloi, sitting in for Angela Davis, and you're listening to MPR News. Glad you could join us today. The song you're hearing may be familiar to you. It's a number from Black Nativity, an annual show at Penumbra Theater in Saint Paul. We'll hear more about that show later in the hour, but it's just one of the many shows on offer during this holiday season. This hour, we are taking a look at some of those shows and events and why this time of year gets people in the mood for holiday cheer.

And I want to hear from you too. Is there a holiday show or event that's become a family tradition? Why is it important to you and your loved ones? Is there a unique story connected to an annual holiday event you've attended in Minnesota? The phone lines are open. You can call us at 651-227-6000 or 800-242-2828.

Well, joining me this hour as co-hosts are Alex V. Cipolle and Max Sparber. You've heard Alex on your airwaves, and read her work on our website. She's our senior arts reporter and critic here at MPR News, and you may have also read her work in the New York Times, where she's a contributor. Glad to have you with me today, Alex.

ALEX CIPOLLE: Thanks Jacob.

JACOB ALOI: And Max Sparber is MPR News' arts editor, though he's had a long career as a theater critic and arts journalist. His work has been seen in Minnpost, City Pages, and The Guardian. Glad to be sharing the host chair with both of you today.

So I'm curious. Since we're going to be talking about holiday traditions and shows, what are your thoughts on this time of year? Do you any fond memories growing up around this winter time, this winter season?

MAX SPARBER: I have no specific memories. Just vibes, and the vibes are good. I love this season. I love the food, the decorations. It makes my little heart grow three times its usual size.


JACOB ALOI: What about you, Alex?

ALEX CIPOLLE: I love the twinkly lights and just the coziness of the season.

JACOB ALOI: Mm. Mm. Yeah. I mean, growing up, every other year, my mother would bring me to Minnesota because my mom's from Minnesota. And so my memories of this time of year are directly connected to right here in Minnesota-- right here in the Twin Cities.

Well, I'm very excited to talk more about our memories and memories of the people who will be calling in. You, the callers, be sure to call in with your memories. But to start our conversation around holiday performances and annual shows, I want to jump into a conversation I had last week with one of the most recognizable annual shows in the Twin Cities.

A Christmas Carol is in its 49th season at the Guthrie Theater, and while there have been different versions of the show, it comes back every year for Minnesota audiences. And actors come back year after year as well, including Nate-- Nat Fuller-- excuse me-- who has been in over 30 productions of A Christmas Carol. This year, he plays the role of old Joe and understudies Ebenezer Scrooge. I spoke with Nat and artistic director Joseph Haj about the story's lasting appeal. Here's Joseph Haj.

JOSEPH HAJ: The production that's on the boards now was our first post-COVID Christmas Carol, so we're in the third year of it. It's the fourth version-- adaptation of Christmas Carol that we've done over these 48 years. So, very roughly speaking, 12 years or so per production.

The story remains the same. It's Dickens' novella, and frankly, that novella itself is a very short, very brief thing. Dickens, who's known for writing these 1,000 page stories, these novels, chose to write in a short form here. It's very compact. The story remains evergreen. People love it every year.

But how we make it changes, and it's good for the Guthrie to periodically make a new version. The version that was on stage before was very beautiful to my mind. I enjoyed it entirely. And in this production, we really wanted one that leaned into the idea that it's a ghost story of Christmas-- that's how it's subtitled. A Christmas Carol-- A Ghost Story of Christmas-- and that it works almost like a dream, where only the necessary things come into focus. And as in a dream, that on the periphery is sort of fuzzy.

So it wasn't about creating a kind of verisimilitude, utterly detailed world, but rather one that lives in the shape of dreams. And so this is the way that we've made this production this time around.

JACOB ALOI: Nat, I'm wondering what has changed for you over the years, doing various versions of the show, playing different? What has that taught you about this story and about why audiences continue to come back for it?

NAT FULLER: I've loved this story from when I was a kid-- watching it, reading it-- and I've loved the character of Scrooge and the journey that he goes through. I think one thing that strikes me the most is how the story doesn't get old. For me, Christmas is Christmas Carol most of the time. I spend a lot of time doing it, a lot of time in the theater, and not as much time out and about.

But December can be a pretty dark time. And they say that the highest levels of depression in the year are around this dark time of Christmas. And with all that's going on in the world, it can be dark and the beginning of Christmas Carol is very dark.

But I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, "it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." And I always feel that this story and the way we present it is that candle. It's a brightness. And when you stand up at the end, take your bows, and see the smiles on the faces and the people standing up-- families with kids, adults, all sharing this-- you realize how light it is.

It changes over the years. I mean, we've had the show go from trying to be a musical extravaganza to going down to bare bones. And for me, one of the things I really like about this version-- I actually think this is the best version for my taste that we do because it tracks with what Dickens wrote. I think it's really in the spirit of what Dickens meant, and we're not trying to make it something other than that, which I have always loved. I loved the novella. And it just strikes a chord in my heart every time.

JACOB ALOI: When y'all all were growing up, what was-- was there kind of that annual, like, oh, we watch White Christmas every year or we go to the theater and see a production of X, Y, Z?

JOSEPH HAJ: Yeah, I loved watching It's A Wonderful Life in the holiday season. Growing up, I loved that movie entirely. I somehow made it through my entire young life without ever seeing Christmas Carol or having read Christmas Carol, so here's a funny story.

It's my first year as a member of the Guthrie Acting Company. I'm 24 years old, I think. I'm just out of school-- out of graduate school that is. And it wasn't lost on me as a very young actor how big a deal that was, and I was having the time of my life. I was loving every bit of it.

And the acting company would say, yeah, sure, Joe. You're having a good time now, but just wait. You're going to have to do Christmas Carol. You're going to play nine shows a week, and it's going to be brilliant. It's like, oh my God. It's Christmas Carol. We do it every year. And there was this sense of fatigue around it, and like the thing that you did that was--

So I was like, OK. Well, we'll see. And, again, I'd never seen it. Never been in it. So Christmas Carol's coming up, and Garland Wright, then artistic director decides in his wisdom that those of us-- we were also prepping Troilus and Cressida-- and Garland decided that the actor playing Troilus-- and that was me-- and the actor playing Cressida and the actor playing Pandarus-- Johnny Bottoms, if you remember, Nat-- didn't have to be in Christmas Carol because we had to concentrate on these big roles for the coming Shakespeare production. So I kind of went around high-fiving everybody, like, ha, ha. I don't have to be in Christmas Carol. You poor suckers. I'll be over there, making art.


NAT FULLER: And so, then, on opening night, I came to the show to support my colleagues and my friends who were all in Christmas Carol, and it was my first exposure to that show. And at the end of it, I was weeping like a baby. And I remember saying all those years ago-- I was like, y'all, this is everything. This is everything we all try to do when we make theater. You're creating community. People are having a big experience. They're leaving the theater better than they walked in. It's everything that we want. And I just realized the power of the story. And it was my absolute first interaction with A Christmas Carol.

JOSEPH HAJ: There was a story years ago about a man who came to see Christmas Carol. And he was estranged from his father. And seeing the show after years and years made him reconnect with him-- reconnect their relationship.

And I always hoped that that's the kind of feeling that people are going to get-- that they want to get in touch with their human relationships, they want to reactivate whatever love they have for people, and feel more generous about people. As Fred says, "realize that we're all fellow passengers to the grave and not another race of species, bound on other journeys." We're all in it together. And I feel the world really needs that. And if we can spread that a little bit, then we're doing a great job.

NAT FULLER: I have nothing to add to that. I think it's beautiful.

JACOB ALOI: Well, thank you both so much for speaking with me.

NAT FULLER: Thank you.

JOSEPH HAJ: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

JACOB ALOI: That was actor Nat Fuller and artistic director Joseph Haj. A Christmas Carol, directed this year by Addie Garland Hahn runs from now until December 30.

If you're just joining us, we are talking about holiday performances and events and what they mean to us. We want to hear from you too. What are your stories? Is there a holiday show or event that's become a family tradition, and why is it important to you and your loved ones? Is there a unique story connected to an annual holiday event you've attended in Minnesota? Well, you can call us at 651-227-6000 or 800-242-2828.

I'm Jacob Aloi, filling in for Angela Davis, and with me is Max Sparber, our arts editor, and Alex V Cipolle, who is a senior reporter on the arts team here at MPR News. I want to turn to you, Alex. There's been a lot of talk about unusual holiday events, and you actually spoke with the organizer of one of those, right?

ALEX CIPOLLE: I sure did. I spoke to Tyrone Schenk, president of Minnesota Krampus or rather "Kram-poos."

JACOB ALOI: OK. So Krampus, right? Can you explain who or what Krampus is? He's kind of like a Christmas demon, right?

ALEX CIPOLLE: Totally. So Krampus is this sort of Bavarian Christmas hairy goat devil from folklore. He's the size of a Yeti, and he partners with Saint Nick to weed out the naughty and the nice, but Krampus kind of focuses on the naughty.

JACOB ALOI: OK. OK. So why did-- Tyrone, you said, right? Why did he start this Krampus group?

ALEX CIPOLLE: So Tyrone started it with his wife Winona Schenk about 10 years ago, and they even honeymooned in Austria to study the folklore behind the tradition. And Schenk himself had also studied in Salzburg and just fell in love with the topic.

So Minnesota Krampus has a team of these Yeti sized creatures that go out with Saint Nick around the Twin Cities and the Midwest to holiday markets, parades, beer halls-- they're even doing a metal show at the Turf Club this season--


ALEX CIPOLLE: --and they're kind of restricted by their masks.

JACOB ALOI: Yeah, could you explain what these masks look like?

ALEX CIPOLLE: So they're like these crazy wood masks, finely carved, really pieces of art that are kind of frozen in these snarls. Very expressive. And so because they're restricted by them, they can only kind of grunt and shake their bells and sticks at people.


ALEX CIPOLLE: It's kind of hilarious. And today, is actually-- December 5-- is Krampusnacht or Krampus Night, and Schenk is going to explain that. Here he is on the Bavarian-Austrian tradition and how Minnesota Krampus keeps it alive.


TYRONE SCHENK: Krampus is often described as a creature larger than a man, covered in fur and horns, and adorned with bells or chains or noise-making instruments. The Krampus are partnered with Saint Nick. Saint Nick gives presents to good girls and boys on December 6, which is his name day. December 5 is the night before, and that is the night that Krampus, who is in charge of punishing all the naughty kids, is said to go through the villages and steal away the naughtiest of the naughty children.

For Minnesota Krampus, Saint Nick is the center of our celebration because there is one good. And there are a lot of Krampus around because there are a lot of ways not to be good. There's a lot more naughty in this world than there is good. So if you make it to Saint Nicholas Day, you put your shoes outside your door, and Saint Nick comes by and puts treats in it. If you get your treats, then you've been good all year long. And so this tradition is very much a lesson to all of us that we need to be good to one another.

When I went to live in Austria, I studied folklore and economics. And during that time, I was able to study a little bit more about the culture and a little bit more about what it takes to not only create the Krampus, but also all the traditions that are associated with it.

During the Christianization of this part of Austria, the first bishops arrived in Salzburg in 776, and that was when the main cathedral there in Old Town Salzburg was started. Part of the oral tradition is that during the Christianization of the pagans, it wasn't very successful.

They allowed the confession that the pagans could continue to keep their Krampus as long as it was paired with Saint Nicholas. And Saint Nicholas being a real person, died in around 343, is one of the most celebrated Saints in Central and Eastern Europe. He's the one that we have as a model for the American Santa Claus.


I grew up being a part of the Bavarian-Austrian community here in the Twin Cities, so it's always been a part of myself and my family. And at this time in my life, I was like, this is a part of our culture that isn't represented very much in the United States, and I wanted to bring it here.

We ended up being founded in 2014, and started importing masks that year. All of our masks are hand-carved by a master wood carver out of stone pine and adorned with animal horns. Ours are largely billy goat or ram horns. They have long-haired goat attached to the mask as well. They have lots of detail. They're beautiful pieces of art, normally, with a exaggerated facial expression.

Our mask Carver is out of a small village in Saint Johann in Pongau, which is just South of Salzburg city-- about 45. He's a master wood carver. My wife and I had the opportunity to meet him and visit his workshop and gain his trust. He deals with just us in the United States. Our suits are long-haired Austrian goat suits, which are possibly the warmest winter jackets in Minnesota.

Our membership is approximately 50 individuals, most of which are primarily here in the Twin Cities metro area. We do have members in Wisconsin and Iowa and South Dakota, Northern Minnesota.

How we mainly have come together is, when my wife and I decided that we were going to start Minnesota Krampus, we asked our friends like, hey, do any of you want to join? And several of them did. And over the years, through interactions with the public, through some of these Christmas market or other holiday festivals that we've done or parades or just seeing us online, they've decided that they wanted to be members as well.

The wooden masks reduce the field division for our Krampus in such a way that we can't see and can't hear everything. So we have handlers around us to not only help direct us, but also help interact between us and the crowd. So if there's, naturally, a situation where there's a young person or even an adult who is not enjoying the experience or not understanding what is going on, that handler or interpreter is there to help bridge the gap. A lot of people just want to know what's going on. The fact that they don't know what's going on it contributes to the whole factor of unknowing and the fright.

We're a completely volunteer 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. We're trying to do it for all the right reasons and not to make a quick buck off of this culture. It takes Austrians maybe a little bit of time to allow that part of their culture to leave their country, and I'm thankful that they've given us the trust to represent them as kind of ambassadors to Minnesota. And hopefully, we as Minnesotans will be good ambassadors to them of what it means to be Minnesotan.

JACOB ALOI: Fabulous. Wow. Learning all about Krampus here on what will be Krampusnacht. Alex, I love that we can get some folklore in some of these spooky vibes during the holiday season, the Christmas season. I know that you're a big fan of that during the holidays, right? Am I right in saying that?

ALEX CIPOLLE: Yeah, you know me. It's spooky vibes only.


ALEX CIPOLLE: Halloween all year.

JACOB ALOI: Well, if you're listening, we want to hear from you too. We're talking about holiday events and holiday shows. What Minnesota holiday show or event has a special place in your heart? You can call us at 651-227-6000 or 800-242-2828. And Paul in Minneapolis has a story. Hello. Good morning, Paul. What did you want to say to us today? Oh. Are you there Paul? Oh, well, I guess we lost Paul. But he does say that one of his favorite things to do is-- oh, oh, Paul. You're here.

PAUL: Yeah.

JACOB ALOI: Oh, hello. Good morning, Paul. What do you want to say to us?

PAUL: First time caller. Long time listener.

JACOB ALOI: Fabulous. Good morning. [CHUCKLES]

PAUL: Yeah, the holiday tradition in our family is The Nutcracker, and only because we've seen it as-- I think, growing up, I always saw The Nutcracker, but it never had that big a role in my life. But having two kids who are both in ballet, they perform in it. And so it occupies us from sort of October all the way through to just before-- just before Christmas is usually the last show. So lots of fun, lots of-- like, it is Christmas to us and this whole spirit of Christmas.

JACOB ALOI: Oh, that's wonderful. Can I ask what part your kids dance in? Are they sugarplum? Are they are they Russian candy canes? What part of the show are they in this year?

PAUL: Well, they're in Loyce Houlton's Nutcracker, which is-- I think it was started in, like, 1964, late '60s, I think, and it runs at the State Theater. So kind of a Minnesota institution. Definitely, everybody should check it out. But I think-- they've played all sorts of roles from the littlest mouse's to-- I think my daughter is in snow and flowers and does some of the big people dances this year. And then, my son is playing the role of Fritz this year, which is the main kid, who's the troublemaker.

JACOB ALOI: Ah, yes. Mischievous Fritz. Well, thank you so much, Paul, for calling in and telling us your story about Minnesota traditions around the holidays. We really appreciate you calling in. So I want to turn to Max. One of the things-- and that Paul just said there-- is one of the reasons why we end up going to see a lot of these shows is because we know people or it's become such an institution in our families or in our friend groups to go see these shows. And you actually spoke to a number of performers who did do annual shows. Am I correct in saying that?

MAX SPARBER: That is correct. I got very curious about that because these holiday shows aren't just economic engines for a lot of the arts, which they are, but they're also events that have a great deal of personal meaning for the audiences and often for the performers. And I thought, who would be better to talk about that than artists who have done one person shows for decades? So I tracked down four of them and asked them what they had to say about that.

JACOB ALOI: Great. Well, let's have a listen to what they had to say.


RUSS KING: I am Russ King, and my show is Bad Advice For Christmas at the Illusion Theater, opening December 7 and running to the 17th. And I've been doing the show for 25 years. I like to describe Miss Richfield as the favorite aunt that you have, who you would always want to invite to a party, but never want to stay overnight.

There's good memories in the holiday times. There were times where you got time off school and you got your friends and you got to hang out, and then you got to buy gifts and give gifts and get gifts. And I think there's an element of it that brings you back to a simpler, easier time in your life. Even if it wasn't simpler and easier, it seems like it's simpler and easier. And I think that's what draws people so much to the holidays, to all holiday things-- decorations, shows, music, all of it.

KEVIN KLING: My name is Kevin Kling, and I'm doing Tales From The Charred Underbelly of The Yule Log, but I've done a version of the show since, I think, 1993. So it moved from the Jungle to the Guthrie, to the other Guthrie, and now this year at O'Shaughnessy.

Yeah, it's a combination of storytelling and music. Dan Chouinard and Simone Perrin and The Brass Messengers. With The Brass Messengers, you just don't ever know what it's going to be. Anarchy and Christmas all rolled into one. I love those guys. And I think that it's just-- it is the perfect time of year to just get back into the touch of how do we belong as a community, as a family, as a faith.

And I think that has a lot to do with it because how we belong is how we form our resiliency. And in these days, I think a form of resiliency, even if it's in laughter, is really important and how we connect.

TODD PETERSON: This is Todd Peterson. The name of my show is A Christmas Carol, Peterson. I've been doing it since the year 2000. 13 different productions over the years. The show started-- I was I've been trying to remember when I first started imitating my mom. And I think back in the '80s, I remember I was working in Florida and I had this joke. My name ain't baby. It's Carol. Mrs. Peterson, if you're nasty.

The show is about tradition. It's about nostalgia and family stories, family jokes. And for the show to be a part of other family's traditions is super special to me.

JANELLE RANEK: Hi. My name is Janelle Ranek and I am the performer for Letters to Santa, Shaken, Not Stirred. And this is a holiday show that will be running at the Bryant Lake Bowl. I've been doing this show for over two decades. It's a one woman show, and during the course of the show, I portray at least 10 different characters, and all of the characters are writing letters to Santa. I think holiday shows become a tradition. And I think it's the nostalgia and that feeling. There's just something magical about it.

JACOB ALOI: Wow. Well, what a great insight to one person shows. I love a one person show. Max, what do you think about those performances are just so appealing to people?

MAX SPARBER: Well, with these shows in particular, they recognize that the holidays can be a time of tremendous weirdness and chaos, and they pack that into the show. Kevin Kling told me that there is the journey you plan and the journey you take, and these shows really are about the journey you take rather than the one you intended. There's a lot of chaos and a lot of fun in them.

JACOB ALOI: Mm, yes. Well, if you want to check out those shows and all the shows we'll be talking about this hour, you can head to our website NPR News with Angela Davis. You can find that page, and we'll have links to all these shows.

Well, we're going to continue our conversation about holiday shows and events in just a moment, but first, let's get an update on today's news headlines with NPR News' Todd Melby. Good morning, Todd.

TODD MELBY: Hey. Good morning, Jacob. Thank you. Israel is intensifying its bombardment in and around Gaza's second largest city, sending ambulances and private cars racing into a local hospital, carrying people wounded in a bloody new phase of the war.

Under US pressure to prevent further mass casualties in the conflict with Hamas, Israel says it's being more precise as it widens its offensive into Southern Gaza after obliterating much of the North. The recent release of dozens of Israeli hostages is bringing new focus on the Hamas rampage through the Kibbutz of Nir Oz.

In Nir Oz, Palestinian fighters roamed unopposed for hours. By the time Israeli soldiers arrived, the militants were gone and they'd taken some 80 residents hostage. About a fifth of the community's population. A review of hundreds of messages from among Nir Oz residents shared exclusively with the Associated Press and additional reporting suggests that Hamas planned well ahead of time to target civilians.

President Joe Biden is spending most of this week raising money for his re-election campaign. Biden is traveling to Boston tomorrow. One of the events features a concert by singer/songwriter James Taylor. On Friday, Biden will head to Los Angeles.

Closing arguments are about to get underway in the government's case, to block JetBlue from buying Spirit Airlines. The trial and the Justice Department's lawsuit against the merger is nearing a conclusion today in federal court in Boston. The Justice Department argues that the proposed $3.8 billion merger would hurt consumers.

Wall Street is sagging again as a big rally that sent it to a 20 month high loses steam. The S&P 500 was 0.3% lower in early trading today, and is on track for its first back to back drop since October.

Locally, there's a special election for a Minnesota House seat in the Southern Twin Cities suburbs, and Fargo voters will decide whether to raise taxes to rehab and expand the Fargodome. This is MPR News.

JEN WHITE: Emmanuel Jal was a child soldier in the '80s. He managed to escape South Sudan when he was 12. On the next 1A, we talked to Jal about his life now as a musician, we hear some of his latest work, and what still drives him to build on his worldwide reputation as an artist who uses his past to promote peace and reconciliation.

JACOB ALOI: That's 1A with Jen White next, here at 10:00 AM on MPR News.


Then, at noon, listen to Minnesota Now, hosted by Cathy Wurzer. Tomorrow morning at 9:00, listen back to a conversation Angela Davis had about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD is a common diagnosis in children, but it's not just kids. Many adults with ADHD are overlooked, especially women. Tomorrow at 9:00, How Trouble With Attention and Focus Shows Up Later In Life.

And right now on the podcast for this program, listen to guest host Kari Miller talk about the best books of 2023 just in time for holiday gift giving. You can get ideas for everyone on your list from your uncle, the history buff, to your friend who likes to curl up with a good mystery. And maybe you find a new few titles you want to pick for yourself. Just search for NPR News with Angela Davis wherever you get your podcasts and listen when it's convenient for you.

SPEAKER 1: Programming is supported by Franklin Center. Serving those on the autism spectrum and with other neurodiversities, Franklin Center offers educational, behavioral, and mental health services for ages 3 to 28. Learn more at

SPEAKER 2: Support comes from Lutheran Social Service, celebrating the contributions of its dedicated employees, volunteers, and funders in reaching 1 in 65 Minnesotans through services that inspire hope, change lives, and build community.

JACOB ALOI: I'm Jacob Aloi, filling in for Angela Davis. Good morning. We're talking about theater, music, and more this holiday season with co-hosts MPR News' very own senior arts reporter and critic Alex V. Cipolle and arts editor Max Sparber.

And we want to hear from you too. Is there a holiday show or event that's become a family tradition? Why is it important to you or your loved ones? Is there a unique story connected to an annual holiday event or something that's become a recent family tradition? You can call us at 651-227-6000. And we have Christopher in Duluth on the line. Good morning, Christopher. What did you want to say to us?

CHRISTOPHER: Hi. Good morning.

JACOB ALOI: Good morning.

CHRISTOPHER: When I heard you guys mention-- hi. I heard you mention you, you like dark aspects of Christmas, and so right away, I thought I had to call and just see if you guys have heard of-- there's an artist in Duluth named Ingeborg Von Agassiz-- "Agassis."

JACOB ALOI: Oh, OK. I've never heard of this artist.

CHRISTOPHER: She's a musician-- OK. So anyway, I think locals call her Ingeborg. Anyway. She put out a very strange, dark Christmas album-- [CHUCKLES] called "The Coventry Carols." This was a couple years ago. And, anyway, a friend turned me on to it, and it's got like this kind of a cult following now.

And so-- [CHUCKLES] wait. I don't know how many songs are on this album, but they're all hers, and there's these-- they're just these weird, dark, fun songs that, apparently, she makes on her own. And you will know the album if you see it. It's black and white, and it has this little odd-- I think she does the art. It's a little ghost angel, maybe. So if you Google it, I'm sure you'll see it.

JACOB ALOI: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Christopher, for calling in and letting us know about this album. "Coventry Carols." that sounds right up your alley, Alex.

ALEX CIPOLLE: Absolutely. I'm going to check it out.

JACOB ALOI: That sounds fantastic. Well, of course, we're talking about holiday shows and holiday albums and events and things, but a lot of what we've been talking about has an explicit holiday theme. But some shows running currently during this time aren't directly tied to any holiday.


(SINGING) Thank our cherished recipes

With simplified instructions

Have them tested and perfected

Every reproduction

Document the whole--

JACOB ALOI: I am Betty is a new musical that opened at the History Theater in Saint Paul a few weeks ago. It tells the story of Betty Crocker, the fictional General Mills marketing mascot. It runs until December 23.

(SINGING) Appetizers, beverages, vegetables, eggs, and dessert

Cookies, salads, meats, and suppers

Sauces, cake, bread, pies, and soup

Add some photos of our Betty Crocker kitchen

And short cuts, extra tips, and cooking terms--

JACOB ALOI: What I think is great about shows like that is that they are-- they're secular. And while all shows we've talked about certainly can be enjoyed by all audiences, it's nice to know that there is theater right now that isn't tied just to Christmas or just to another holiday happening this month. And in fact, Max, I think that you've actually done some writing about that-- about the experience of being in a Christmas dominated world and being not from a Christian background, right?

MAX SPARBER: That is correct. As you know, I am from the Hebraic persuasion.


And we Jews have our own holiday around this time of year-- Hanukkah-- but we also have a Christmas tradition. We used to have something called Nittel Nacht. Nittel is actually Yiddish for Christmas, and we would play cards and refuse to study for some reason. But now, we have something called Jewish Christmas, where we get Chinese food and we see a movie. And I have in fact, written a poem about. That the poem is called "Opening a Fortune Cookie Like It's The Dead Sea Scrolls."

Chinese food on Christmas

There's Dana Fishbein

Hey, Dana

I haven't seen her since the Levinson wedding

All us Jews, wandering in

That's what we do-- wander

54 minutes to get seated, even with reservations

We should have just ordered to-go

Ate at home, watching Easy Money

You remember

1983 film

It has a Christmas scene

Rodney Dangerfield is Italian

But that's movie Jewish


Look, it's Danny Miller

What's up, Danny?

He's head of oncology

Apparently, golfs 20 hours a week

He used to be such a little pisher

Probably makes more than everyone in the restaurant combined

Finally, seated we know what we want

Mongolian beef and orange chicken

I'll have a Pepsi

It'll probably be another hour before the food shows up

Get comfortable

My father used to come in here all the time

He used to tell the waitresses to tell the old man in the back, make it extra spicy

Nobody knew who he was talking about

I looked in the back once

No old man

A kid, maybe 20, smoking a cigarette over the wok


I haven't seen this many Jews in a room since my bar mitzvah

I haven't seen this many Jews in a room since Rabbi Cantor's funeral

Cantor from Beth, Israel

You didn't hear?

Cancer-- a shanda-- a shame

There hasn't been this many Jews crammed into one place since Moses and the Hebrews stood between the walls of water at the Red Sea

Lost in the desert for 40 years

They weren't looking for the Holy Land

They were trying to find a decent Szechuan joint


JACOB ALOI: And what was the name of that poem one more time?

MAX SPARBER: That is called "Opening A Fortune Cookie Like It's The Dead Sea Scrolls."

JACOB ALOI: Oh, wonderful. Well, thank you so much for sharing your writing with us. Of course, Max is a very accomplished journalist, but also an accomplished writer, playwright, and poet.

Now, of course that was great to hear, but during this season, concerts are also a big deal. It's not just theater, music, going to a Chinese restaurant. And one concert that happens annually is produced by local musician Steven C. Anderson.


STEVEN ANDERSON: Well, it started with an idea to record Christmas in the cathedral to have that extra feeling of the space. And then, I wanted to do just one concert to have kind of people experience what I did, which was the sound of this 9-foot Bosendorfer in the cathedral with its great nine second reverb.

And then, a lot of people showed up, so we figured, OK. We'll do another one. Well, here we are on the seventh, and why not call it Christmas Together? And I'd love to share the faith journey. Basically, playing the Catholic Church for 20 years in the front row. and then, finally figuring out that was the faith for me and going on that journey to then come back to the cathedral for the first time as a Catholic to share that journey.

Having this concert-- we call it Christmas Together-- I still envision people grabbing a neighbor or a friend or a family member who might be struggling or might not have stuff going on to say, let's check this out, and to have that experience be something that they talk about and can share. And for myself, then it's a big Christmas karma, so I can put it out for two wonderful nights at the Cathedral. Of course, there's a lot more going on in the month, but by the time I get to my family and Christmas, Christmas karma is going to be wonderful this year.

JACOB ALOI: Christmas Together is at the Cathedral of Saint Paul December 7 and 8. If you're just joining us. I'm Jacob Aloi, in for Angela Davis this morning. Thank you so much for being with us. We're talking about annual Christmas shows, holiday shows, the yuletide this time of year.

We want to hear from you too. What Minnesota holiday show or event has a special place in your heart? You can call us at 651-227-6000 or 800-242-2828. And I want to go to Dana. Dana is in Woodbury, and has a story about concerts as well. Good morning, Dana. What do you want to tell us?

DANA: Good morning, Jacob. I just wanted to share a story about how our festival that we like to attend is the Minnesota Chorale's sing along of The Messiah, held each year under the direction of Kathy Saltzman Romey. It's important to us because my 20-year-old daughter, a year and a half ago, auditioned for the Minnesota Chorale, and actually got in.

And then, last year her first time to sing with this group was two weeks after she started hospice. And my daughter, Amara, died in April--

JACOB ALOI: My sympathy.

DANA: --but our family was able to go back again to the same concerts-- again, with the sing along of Handel's Messiah-- just aware of that everyone has joys and sorrows, that so much is going on in the world that is difficult, but here was a place where this music is so transcendent and helps us feel connected to everyone, including our daughter.

JACOB ALOI: Oh, Dana. Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story. My condolences. But what a beautiful thing that you get to have that experience to be able to go to that concert and sing along and remember your daughter. That's just wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing that story with us today.

I want to change gears a little bit. That's just the power of things that can happen this time of year, right? Being able to sit down and either have a laugh or remember somebody or be able to be in community when you need it. And I'm just curious is there any shows this year that you, Alex and Max, are recommending that people check out or that you're personally excited to go to feel something, whether that be joy or whether it is to remember somebody? Is there any particular shows that you are recommending?

ALEX CIPOLLE: Yeah. I'm really interested in checking out the artist design rooms at the American-Swedish Institute Mansion. Looks like they're going to be really magical. And then, I'm wondering if I can still get tickets to A Very Die Hard Christmas, which is at the Bryant Lake Bowl. It's kind of a cult holiday classic, but I'm pretty sure it's sold out already.

JACOB ALOI: Yeah, you did a story last year actually about it, right? You did a story about that Die Hard Christmas. Can you explain a little bit what Die Hard Christmas is?

ALEX CIPOLLE: They essentially act out the film--

JACOB ALOI: Oh, wow.

ALEX CIPOLLE: --every year, and--

JACOB ALOI: Is it kind of Rocky Horror style or is it like--

ALEX CIPOLLE: No, not-- I mean, there is some audience participation, but it's the same cast every year, and I think they've been doing it for what, 10, 15 years now.


ALEX CIPOLLE: Yeah, but the script evolves every year. They put new jokes in.

JACOB ALOI: Oh, cool. So it's an ever-evolving kind of show.


JACOB ALOI: Oh, that's fabulous. That's wonderful. Max, I'm curious. What are you recommending this year for people to go and check out?

MAX SPARBER: I have two shows. The first is called Scrooge in Rouge at Open Eye Theater in Minneapolis. This is an opportunity for me to celebrate my other ethnicities, which are English and Irish. This is a show inspired by Music Hall, which is sort of an English version of Vaudeville , but it's very working class, really knockabout.

And this is a show about a Music Hall cast where everybody except three of the cast members have gotten sick, and the three cast members try to produce a version of Christmas Carol on their own.


MAX SPARBER: It's very chaotic. The music in it is really funny. So that's a show I'm really looking forward to. And the second one is A Christmas in Ochopee by New Native Theater. This is a theater company that's been around since 2009. It's focused on developing and producing plays by Native authors, starring native actors, and telling native stories.

And this is tells of a native family during Christmas in the Everglades. It's described, "as guess who's coming to dinner meets A Christmas Vacation native style," which sounds fantastic to me.


JACOB ALOI: That sounds incredible. I'm very excited for that. That sounds really cool. And in fact, we actually have another recommendation. Martha in Proctor. Good morning, Martha. What did you want to talk to us about today? What's your new family tradition that you mentioned?

MARTHA: Good morning. So our new family tradition is a concert by Brule. It's a Native group from the Lower Brule Sioux community in South Dakota, and they put on a free holiday concert usually sometime over Thanksgiving weekend. So the Friday or Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. And it's at the Black Bear Casino in Carlton Minnesota, and it's a beautiful combination--


JACOB ALOI: Oh, wow.

MARTHA: --Christmas carols like in a rock-jazz style, but combined with Pow Wow dancers.

JACOB ALOI: Oh, wow.

MARTHA: So it's a beautiful combination of the two and a wonderfully unique holiday experience. So that's become our new tradition.

JACOB ALOI: Wow. That sounds so interesting. Thank you so much, Martha, for calling in with that suggestion. That's incredible. I love that kind of cross-cultural sort of dealios and sort of situations.

Well, of course-- and I have to talk about some of my favorite memories around this time of year. And one of my favorites actually, growing up-- like I said earlier in the hour, my mom would bring me here to see my family in Minnesota, but every other year. And I remember growing up and coming to see How The Grinch Stole Christmas at Children's Theater Company when I was very young with my mom and my aunt.

And I had the pleasure, actually, this year of speaking to their artistic director Peter Brosius about the show. He's actually stepping down as the artistic director at the end of this season. That means this is his last time directing this holiday favorite. So I asked him what he remembers about holiday theater when he was growing up.

PETER BROSIUS: Growing up, we had quite an elaborate Christmas Eve, where we would dress up and put on shows and read stories and sing songs and create little theater pieces at home. We had a ballet, but The Nutcracker wasn't part of it. We didn't have a professional theater. We had the community theater. They did not do a regular holiday show, so it wasn't quite the same. So the idea that multiple generations will come together-- you know, grandma and kids and grandkids come together-- it's just so gorgeous that someone saw this X number of years ago, and now get to it gets to bring their children and their children, and they all have this experience together and they bond together.

And the other thing that happens at our theater, which wasn't necessarily part of my growing up is that people dress the part. It's like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I mean, people come in costume. I mean, the number of people who are in Grinch stuff and Grinch hats and Grinch pants and Grinch pajamas. It's just-- it's so fun to watch, and I just love the fact that the families have made it that special.

JACOB ALOI: I never thought I would hear How The Grinch Stole Christmas being described as kind of like the kids Rocky Horror. [LAUGHS]

PETER BROSIUS: Well, that's what the audience does. I mean, people come dressed, and it's so fun, you know? And they're just so pumped up.

JACOB ALOI: At the end of this season, you're stepping down as artistic director of Children's Theater Company. So I'm curious. Reflecting on this being the last year that you're directing this show, what are some thoughts, what are some feelings, what are some emotions about that?

PETER BROSIUS: Opening night was pretty emotional because then, the show theirs and this is my last dance with these amazing actors. I've had the great pleasure of working with our acting company, who are just so gorgeous and so strong and so generous.

Reed Sigmund is the Grinch and Dean Holt as Old Max. I mean, the heart that they bring to this, the depth of work is so inspiring to me. And audiences just thrilled to it because it's so alive and so vital and so funny. It's just so ridiculously funny too.

It was a funny time because, on one hand, you're just trying to make the best show ever, which is what you always do. And there's a whole agenda of things that the wonderful choreographer I worked with, Linda Talcott Lee and Talley, and I just talked about changes in all the dance numbers and things we wanted to make and changes we wanted to make in the character roles.

And so on one hand, you're just trying to make the show better and make it stronger and make it funnier and make it more touching. On the other hand, you are saying goodbye and you're wishing it well. I didn't invent it. I didn't commission it. The theater did, but I didn't. And so I tried to bring my heart and my research and my thinking to it, and someone else will do the same.

And that's one of the glorious things about the theater is that how many Hamlets can there be? They can all be different. How many Death of the Salesmans? It's all going to change. I look forward to seeing the sort of genius that the next team brings to it. But it's not without its moments where you're like, oh, this is the last time.

I think it's a fabulous thing to create ritual, and I think it's a fabulous thing that one of the rituals in this community is to go see theater at the holidays and that Children's Theater is a part of so many people's lives and that this particular piece because it is about hope, about transformation, about a community coming together, about a community finding joy when everything's gone. And I love that the humor, the hilarity, the outrageousness, and the absolute tenderness all are able to coexist in this piece for families.

There was a study that showed that young people who were involved in the theater, either as an audience member or as a participant, at an early age have a greater propensity to a life enjoying the arts, whether that's going to museums or going to concerts or going to plays or going to the opera or whatever then those who don't. And so the idea that, when I look out and I see school groups coming and I see grandparents or aunties or uncles or parents or caretakers bringing kids to the theater, it's such a gift for the rest of their lives.

And it's very moving because, yeah, you're taking them to a show, but you're also opening a door for the rest of their lives to something that is magical and fun and inspiring and glorious and hilarious. And so it's very emotional when I see these families and I see them like-- you're having a night out, but you're also giving a gift for the rest of their lives, and it's a great gift.

JACOB ALOI: That was Peter Brosius, the artistic director of Children's Theater Company and also the director of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, which runs through January 7. Just a lot of memories for me associated with that show, so I'm very happy that I was able to speak with him.

So another annual show we talked about it up at the top of the hour is, of course Black Nativity, which is done at Penumbra Theater. Max, you spoke to them about doing this show, right?

MAX SPARBER: Yeah, they've been doing this show for more than three decades. And it's a very interesting show to me because, while the audiences aren't exclusively African-American, it is primarily intended or has special resonance for Black audiences. And so I asked Chris Barry, who is the penumbra arts director, what he thought about that resonance.

JACOB ALOI: Oh, great. Well, let's see.

CHRIS BARRY: One of the things that I find that is the beautiful message in this is there is a-- everyone approaches the holidays in a different way. And one of the things I think for African-American audiences in Minnesota that it's a moment where it can be celebratory. It can be a balm during a time of grief. It can be a moment of coming together and repair with family. It is a signpost. It is a staple that shows us the best of what we can be on stage. Not just through a religious lens, but through an artistic lens of, we can be healing-centered, very thoughtful people towards each other.

And I really embrace the fact that this show means different things for different people. And the hope is that this show is that balm that is needed for these families, for the individuals, for the communities during this time of the year.

JACOB ALOI: That was Chris Barry, arts director at Penumbra. Well, we just have a few seconds left here to just talk a little bit about one more recommendation or one more thing that you're excited-- a holiday tradition or show that either of you are interested in this year. Do you have any more shows that you are particularly excited for, Max and/or Alex?

MAX SPARBER: Well, as you know, we're also the Cube Critics. We do film reviews here, and so I have a movie recommendation for the season. This is going to be a contentious one because people hate the trailers, but I'm going to recommend Wonka.


MAX SPARBER: And I'm going to say it's by the same people who made Paddington 2, which is the best film ever made.


MAX SPARBER: And so I'm giving it a lot of leeway.


MAX SPARBER: I suspect it's going to be quite good despite the trailer.


JACOB ALOI: Fantastic. [LAUGHS] Well, thank you both so much. Our time is up for today or nearing close. But if you've liked today's festivities, our friends at YourClassical are presenting a special called Your Classical Christmas Favorites, and it's hosted by MPR's very own Tom Crann and Valerie Kahler. It'll start December 12th and it will also be available on-demand audio. So you can go to They took recommendations earlier this year and are going to be reviewing some of that music, so I'm very excited for that. That is my big holiday recommendation.

So thank you so much for-- both of you for being here today. I really appreciate it, but on the note of saying that we're talking about Christmas favorites, we're going to go out on one of my personal favorites of this time of year-- "All Through The Night."


I want to thank my co-hosts, arts editor Max Sparber and senior arts reporter and critic, Alex V. Cipolle. And thank you to Maja Backstrom, our director and technical direction from Jess Berg. See you in the audience.

SPEAKER 3: Programming is supported by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community-- a tribal nation that is the largest employer in Scott County and one of the largest charitable givers in Minnesota. More at

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