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Holiday shows delight at Seattle theaters
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Bits&Bytes is officially off and running for the 2008 holiday season. The score thus far? Four for four. Read on:

It's official: Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker has officially opened the 2008 holiday season. Whirling and twirling snowflakes, a strutting peacock, a little girl who dreams of an enchanted nutcracker - they're all back for the 25th season of the beloved Maurice Sendak/Kent Stowell creation.

What is there to say? It is tremendous. It is delightful. It is a "must." This year, Mr. Bits&Bytes took his granddaughter - nearing 7 years old - and saw the whole production from a child's viewpoint. Terrific family entertainment. A beautiful score beautifully played by the PNB Orchestra with brilliant conducting from Stewart Kershaw. Incredible fantasy-comes-alive settings. Stunning dancing. Gorgeous costumes. It all spells fabulous.

Nutcracker continues evening and matinee performances through December 28. Ticket information at (206) 441-2424. Highest recommendation

Plaid Tidings, the new holiday encore edition of the ever popular Forever Plaid makes its Northwest debut with a smart and sassy Christmas staging at ArtsWest in West Seattle. The show is an audience winner from its first moments of close harmony. "Please, please bring it back next year," one longtime patron begged the artistic director on opening weekend.

Forever Plaid, an off-Broadway and regional theater cabaret hit, found The Four Plaids reunited in heaven after a fatal automobile accident as the 1950s close harmony group headed to its first appearance. Think The Four Lads, The Four Freshman, the Hi-Los, Seattle's The Brothers Four, as you'll be right on.

For Plaid Tidings, the four return for one holiday concert. In the first half, they sing their greatest hits - "Stranger In Paradise," "Sh-Boom," "Besame Mucho," "Mambo Italiano," "Hey, There," "The Christmas Song." In Act Two, inspired to recreate a Perry Como Christmas Special, songs like "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," "Let It Snow," "Joy To The World," "Carol Of The Bells," "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas" take center stage. As one friend always enthuses, "I love it when they sing songs I know!"

The four young men - Smudge, Frankie, Jinx and Sparky - each have their solo moments and each have their distinct characterizations. One (telling would spoil the surprise) has a serious crush on another guy in the group. All four are talented actors and singers and the piano, bass musical support is tops.

Forever Plaid continues through December 23. Ticket details at (206) 938-0339. Highest recommendation.

Arnaldo!, Seattle's favorite (and only) drag chanteuse, offers his "first ever" holiday cabaret show, Waiting For The Man With The Bag, which continues two more Sundays, this week and next, at Julia's On Broadway. The popular restaurant and club offers Friday and Saturday late night cabarets with a host of Seattle female impersonators. Le Faux is an old-fashioned drag show whereas Arnaldo!'s cabaret career always features live vocal performances with live musical accompaniment.

For Man With A Bag, Arnaldo! works with pianist Victor Janusz, a popular local keyboard artist who gets several major solo moments in the current cabaret show. Arnaldo! combines old favorites - "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend," Eartha Kitt's classic "Santa Baby" - with some new numbers to his repertoire. "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" was a wistful favorite of this scribe. Arnaldo! makes a spectacular entrance for the holiday cabaret. After some opening melodies from Janusz, Santa peeks through the curtain to see if the capacity crowd is ready for Arnaldo!. It is (and has been for more than 30 minutes - the show started on "drag time" which is not typical of Arnaldo!'s very classy productions). The curtains open and we find a large red satin bell on stage. When it ascends, Arnaldo! is revealed in a skintight red satin strapless and sequined sheath. Very glamorous, very Arnaldo!. A faux fox stole - slightly longer than a nonstop trip to Chicago - completes the Hollywood glamour girl look. ("Sarah Palin must have shot it for her," one wag nearby quipped.)

The "gender illusionist" - a New York cabaret award winner - paired "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" with the James Bond "Diamonds Are Forever." The idea worked better in concept that in performance but the crowd loved the idea and the performances.

Costume changes, an unnecessary intermission, a stroll though the audience with kisses for "Arnaldo! virgins" (new patrons who have never seen Arnaldo! in person) continued the show. "I Don't Remember Christmas (And I Don't Remember You)" received a stunning vocal delivery but the caustic cabaret classic seemed strange on a fun, fun holiday agenda. Great performance - it will work better as a guest artist choice some other time. "I'll Be Home For Christmas" brought the crowd back into the nostalgia mood and mode. "Happy Holidays" ended the 90-minute show on a charming, quiet note.

Reservations for the show are a "must." Details at (206) 334-0513. High recommendation.

Characters and situations from numerous Bret Harte tales have been compiled and combined by playwright Norman Alan to create "a new holiday classic," The Christmas Foundling, Taproot Theatre's warm and lovely entry into the Christmas season sweepstakes that Emerald City theaters offer every year. While the overall effect is slight, there's much to like - and much to enjoy - in this solid production at Taproot. The theater, which makes its home in the Greenwood district of North Seattle, has a loyal subscription audience that clearly loved every minute of this holiday fable.

Using the characters and situation from Harte's The Lucky Of Roaring Camp (California gold miners in the 1850s become substitute fathers for a newborn babe), Allen's script stays with the mining men as the boy grows from an infant into a young man. A long lost aunt of the boy arrives from Massachusetts to complicate the tale, which stays true to the spirit of Harte, a writer once more popular than Mark Twain, his contemporary.

Karen Lund's direction is solidly on target and the physical production is topnotch. Performances are uniformly good, with Grant Goodeve, Jason Adkins and Casi Wilkerson heading the cast.

The warm-hearted show continues evenings and Saturday matinees through December 27. High recommendation. Ticket details at (206) 781-9707.

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