Holiday Entertainment at Local Theatres

Winter’s chill brings us back indoors, which means it’s prime time to frequent our region’s vibrant arts and entertainment venues. While many landmarks in our region cater to tribute bands and touring performers, there’s also a rich array of live theater, hosted by some talented players. Their stories make us think, cry and feel as they both dazzle and entertain us. Here’s a sample of what lies ahead for some of our region’s top live theater groups.

Artists’ Ensemble Theater

Rockford’s equity professional theater is commemorating its 20th season, so its latest performance revisits some of the most memorable scenes and stories from the past two decades. Given that “Holiday Havoc” runs Dec. 15 and 16 at Rockford University’s Cheek Theatre, this unique performance is intently focused on the holiday season.

“It’s a mishmash of scenes from holiday shows and songs. It’s going to be a fun evening,” says Richard Raether, co-founder and producing artistic director. “And it’s a pay-what-you-can. There are no tickets to buy. You just show up, throw money in a jar and enjoy the evening.”

This pay-what-you-can approach aligns with the theater’s mission of entertaining everybody, no matter their means.

“We wanted to do something that anybody can come to,” says Raether. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money; you can just come and have fun.”

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Byron Civic Theatre

Since 1995, this all-volunteer, nonprofit theater group has presented both large-scale and intimate works in Byron, Ill.

Byron Civic Theatre celebrates the holiday season this year with a stunning rendition of the timeless “Nutcracker” ballet. Running Dec. 20-22 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 23 at 2 p.m. at Byron Middle School’s Theater, the performance brings to life the beloved score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. In telling the story of Clara and her dream about a nutcracker doll come to life, the players of Byron Civic Theatre team up with the young performers of Byron Dance Academy and Gateway Performing Arts, in Loves Park, Ill.

For its next production, Byron Civic Theatre is seeking talented middle school students to support the cast of “Freaky Friday,” the beloved Disney tale of a mother and daughter who switch places and must rebuild their relationship. The curtain rises Feb. 9 and 10.

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Fireside Theatre

This Wisconsin theater remains focused on artistic excellence and Broadway-quality shows accompanied by fine dining and boutique shopping.

Running now through Dec. 23, the theater presents “Scrooge: The Musical,” a Broadway adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol.” This stage version captivates audiences with a blend of musical scores, dancing, period costumes, uproarious comedy and heartwarming drama that cast a new light on this Christmas staple.

Fireside caps off the year with a rock ‘n’ roll retrospective meant to leave you dancing your way into the new year. Matinee and evening performances of “Shake Baby Shake,” on Dec. 31, present a portrait of the golden age of Rock ‘n’ Roll, complete with hits from the 1950s and ’60s. To guide you through the journey, piano entertainer Lance Lipinsky brings the Lovers and The Lovettes.

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Beloit Civic Theatre

Beloit’s riverfront community theater troupe warmly welcomes audiences to enjoy timeless tales from the small stage this upcoming year.

Beloit Civic Theatre begins the new year with “Steel Magnolias” from Jan. 25 through Feb. 3. The heartwarming tale, set in 1980s Louisiana, revolves around the lives of six women whose bonds are tested through joy and heartbreak.

The play has many echoes of the 1989 film starring Julia Roberts and Sally Field, but it also has a few surprises and a simple aesthetic that’s anchored by a magnolia tree.

“It’s classified as a ‘dramedy,’ because there’s a lot of drama and a lot of comedy,” says Doris Hunter Tropp, secretary for the theater’s board of directors. “Everybody knows women in their community who are like some of these women.”

To learn more and purchase tickets, visit