Christmas in the Time of COVID-19

Photo courtesy of SCR

Actor Richard Doyle is the narrator of "A Christmas Carol," a free audio performance available on South Coast Repertory's website, scr.org.

You thought in March that it would be over by now, didn’t you?

This Christmas is shaping up to be like no other. That dreaded coronavirus keeps sticking around — and it has been spreading lately at a record-breaking clip.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that people should not travel during the holidays. Travel facilitates the spread of coronavirus, the CDC says, and we’ve seen how badly things have transpired across the country since Thanksgiving.

We’re not even supposed to meet with family members outside of our own households, especially if they are elderly and have not received the vaccine yet. That means it’s advisable NOT to visit with your parents, particularly if there are members of your household who go outside and interact with the world — and its strange inhabitants — daily or regularly.

Well, if you’re like me, you only see the whole family together on special occasions, so this is kind of a heartbreak of a Christmas — for myself, as well as for millions of people.

If you find yourself stuck at home this Christmas, quarantined with select family members or on your own, here are some virtual experiences presented by local arts and culture organizations that hopefully might bring a smile to your face — or a potent dose of nostalgia for the days of Christmas yore.

“A Christmas Carol”: South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory is continuing its 41-year tradition of presenting Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” only this year it is an audio performance available on SCR’s website. Actor Richard Doyle, one of SCR’s founding members, narrates this version, which is a new adaptation scripted by John Glore, the theater’s associate artistic director.

Doyle, as many know, is the narrator for the summertime Pageant of the Masters, which — like nearly all public performances — was canceled this year due to COVID-19. Doyle delivers a hearty, nuanced version of the Dickens classic, which is complemented by original music and sound design by David R. Molina. The performance is directed by Hisa Takakuwa, who was originally scheduled to direct the stage version of “A Christmas Carol” this year.

SCR is streaming this performance for free on its website through Dec. 31.

“Something New”: OC Women’s Chorus

“Something New” is a combination of traditional holiday choral songs and carols, African American spirituals and a newly commissioned work by Southern California choral composer Dale Trumbore, all sung by the OC Women’s Chorus.

Photo courtesy of O.C. Women's Chorus

Singers perform as a part of the Orange County Women’s Chorus “Something New” online concert.

It’s presented in an online book format with 32 pages you can “turn.” The pages are filled with videos of performances, as well as background information on the music and biographies of the contributing artists.

The 14 performances are a combination of zoomed-in, virtual contributions by the singers, live performances filmed in a safe and socially distanced recording session, and performances created at home by OCWC singers and guest artists.

“Something New” is an innovative program and worth a listen. And like many online/virtual offerings this year, it’s free.

“‘Tis the Season” Virtual Concert and Gala: Pacific Chorale

Robert Istad, conductor of the Pacific Chorale

This lively, audience-less event originally occurred live on Dec. 3. It’s available for free download on Pacific Chorale’s website through Jan. 1. You will have to enter your email address and name.

This show is chock full of Christmas standards, such as “Winter Wonderland,” “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “What Child is This,” “O Holy Night,” “Silent Night” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Pacific Chorale singers perform solo and as a zoomed-in group. The backing band is tight yet pretty spare, with two pianists, a drummer and a double bass and guitarist. There are some insightful and touching narratives offered by Pacific Chorale singers as well.

Some surprise guests make appearances, such as the Southern California Children’s Chorus and St. Nicholas himself.

“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play”: Laguna Playhouse

The Frank Capra-directed Christmas classic is reinterpreted as a live, 1940s radio broadcast in front of a live audience. Joe Landry, who adapted this presentation, has worked with Laguna Playhouse and its actors to create this special local version.

This video-on-demand performance is available for purchase for $20 through Jan. 1. It may be viewed through Jan. 19.

Check Laguna Playhouse’s website for details.

“Nutcracker” Pas de Deux: American Ballet Theatre

Photo courtesy of ABT/Doug Gifford

Hee Seo and Cory Stearns, center, in the American Ballet Theater’s “The Nutcracker.”

To the dismay of dance organizations and supporters across the country (and the world), “The Nutcracker,” a beloved tradition and a dependable money maker, has faced blanket cancellations due to COVID-19.

Some companies have tried to do abbreviated, outdoor versions, but even many of those have been scrapped due to stay-at-home orders.

While this online performance by the American Ballet Theatre cannot make up for such a loss, it is, at least, something. ABT principal dancers Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside, as Clara and the Prince, deliver a gorgeous version of the famed “Pas de Deux” in the “Nutcracker” ballet. It was filmed in early November at New York City’s Highline Hotel, and it is brought to you courtesy of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ “Center at Home” program.

Virtual Holiday Fun: Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Speaking of the center, the nonprofit arts organization is presenting three virtual holiday programs through its website. “Liz Callaway — Home for the Holidays” features the Tony nominee and Emmy winner Callaway performing a mix of holiday favorites and Broadway showtunes, followed by an interview and a post-show Q&A. $25.

“Shoshana Bean — Sing Your Hallelujah!” features Broadway star Bean at New York’s City’s Apollo Theater. Guests include Gavin Creel, Jared Grimes, Jeremy Jordan, Shayna Steele, Connie Talbot and Daniel J. Watts. $30.

“Holidaze Harmony” stars Terron Brooks and Kamilah Marshall performing “live” at the Garry Marshall Theatre in Burbank. The show is billed as “part variety show, part dynamite vocals, banter, bloopers and soul-stirring harmonies.” $35.

While you may or may not feel like shelling out $25-$35 for these shows, they do help benefit the center, Orange County’s largest nonprofit arts organization, which has faced staggeringly difficult times during this pandemic.

Night of Lights OC: OC Fair & Event Center

If you feel like getting out of the house this Christmastime, there is a drive-thru option at the OC Fair in Costa Mesa.

You and your family can enjoy a Parade of Lights, a Toyland Carnival, a big ol’ holiday tree, an Icicle Playground, a Shadow Elf Village, a Hall of Presents and more. Characters from the animated TV series “PAW Patrol” will be present to entertain the kiddos.

Tickets are a wee bit expensive: They start at $49.99 on Wednesdays, $59.99 on Thursdays and $69.99 on Fridays through Sundays. The price is per vehicle, and vehicles are allowed up to five people each.

Tickets are being sold online only, and there is an online processing fee. It looks like tonight, Dec. 25, is sold out, however Dec. 26-Jan. 10 is open.

All guests must wear masks if they choose to roll down windows, and must remain in their vehicles ant all times during the experience, with the exception of restroom visits, available at the beginning and the end. Food is available for pre-order at an additional cost.

The OC Fair & Event Center is at 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.

Chapman College of Performing Arts

Chapman University is offering two streamed performances: the Conservatory Winter Showcase, and the Fall Dance Showcase. Each is streamed at noon each day through Jan. 10. Free.

Virtual Festival of Winter Celebrations: Bowers Museum

The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana is presenting another one of its virtual festivals, this time celebrating cultural holidays. This Virtual Family Festival will be streamed on Facebook Live at 11 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 27.

Performances will include a Kwanzaa presentation by Imani Harris and Dwayne Roberts of Second Baptist Church in Santa Ana; selections from “The Nutcracker” by Orange County Ballet Theater, directed by Jennifer and Dimitri Kulev; Christmas songs by Gavin Braun; balloon artistry by Teresa Williams; and a Chanukah presentation by Sarit Zorano.

There will be an art project, showing kids how to make a piñata out of a paper bag, as well as a recipe/demonstration on how to make old-fashioned sugar cookies.

Free; go to the Bowers’ Facebook page, or look for a link on the Bowers’ website.

“Costumes of the Nutcracker”: Anaheim Ballet and Muzeo

The Anaheim Ballet and Muzeo have created their first collaborative exhibit, “Costumes of the Nutcracker.” It features nutcracker dolls, costumes from the ballet, and insights into the role of costumes in the production. There’s also a video on “Collecting Nutcrackers” with Rayell Segerstrom, a board member and former dancer with Anaheim Ballet. This free virtual exhibit is available on Muzeo’s website.

Image courtesy of Muzeo

The Anaheim Ballet and Muzeo have teamed up to create their first collaborative exhibit, “Costumes of the Nutcracker.” It’s on view now on Muzeo’s website.

Image courtesy of Muzeo

Rayell Segerstrom, a board member and former dancer for Anaheim Ballet, shares her love of nutcrackers in the video “Collecting Nutcrackers,” available to view on Muzeo’s website.

“All is Bright — A Concordia Christmas”: KCET and PBS SoCal

If you’d rather not stare into a computer screen for Christmas celebrations, there is the trusty boob tube. The vocal and instrumental musical ensembles from Concordia University Irvine perform in a holiday concert recorded in 2018 in what appears to be the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

The performance airs at 11 a.m. today on KCET and 8 p.m. on PBS SoCal. They are also available online on the KCET and PBS SoCal websites.

Let’s Not Forget

Of course, Christmas at its core is a religious holiday. The very word “Christmas” comes from “Christ’s mass” or “mass of Christ.” (Thanks, @kavitalks on TikTok for reminding me of that!)

Many churches in Orange County are holding virtual services on Christmas Day and throughout the weekend. A few of OC’s largest churches are Saddleback Church, Mariners Church and Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.

Check your church’s website for more details.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night/great weekend!

Richard Chang is senior editor for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at [email protected].