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Enter stage right: CL's theater holiday preview

Where fantasy usurps reality and relevance and rock 'n' roll rules over traditional musicals

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So what's the deal with all these radio-soaked scripts coming our way every year after Thanksgiving — is it just a cheap way to put up a show, or does the appeal run deeper?

"The idea of a comforting time in Americana where we all settled in to listen together is not lost on a theater audience," says Tansor. "Chaps! celebrates a peaceful time of the year in a time period that is war torn. Do we not find ourselves again in a time where we seek peace and understanding, during a time when so many American servicemen and women are so courageously doing their duty in the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq?"

After all the slapstick and the "Back in the Saddle" buckskin fare, Chaps! will finally veer toward a sentimental feeling of military solidarity with "The White Cliffs of Dover" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." A similar cuddliness prevails at the end of our journeys to snowbound Bedford Falls and Tuna, Texas.

Hard-core drama and serious contemplation of the Nativity are rarer breeds during the holiday season, but Charlotte can boast one of each species. Based at Providence High, the precocious Chaos Theatre Ensemble continues to bring provocative drama "for youth, by youth" to Duke Energy Theatre during winter break. This year, it's Women and Wallace (Dec. 7-10), a serious comedy that chronicles -- through sometimes painful flashbacks -- the development of a unique 18-year-old who hurls a ripe tomato at a girl while crying out "I love you!"

Starving Artist Productions has grown fairly robust over the past five years, getting set to offer the sixth edition of The Birth: A Reflective Celebration of the Coming of Christ (Dec. 12-19). Featuring the musings of Frederick Buechner, the show moves into Duke Energy Theatre, where James K. Flynn will join the cast for the first time as narrator. The special celebration performance on Dec. 17 tacks on a concert by Sarah DeShields, who wrote two of the original songs in the show, including the marvelous "Mary." Even if mine eyes do occasionally roll at the excess baby worship, the warm glow of authentic reverence is unique in this homegrown adaptation by Nathan Rouse.

Theatre Charlotte's production of A Christmas Carol (Dec. 9-18) gets a makeover at the old Queens Road barn in its fifth consecutive year. Kevin Campbell as Ebenezer Scrooge and Alan England as Jacob Marley anchor the cast as usual, but Theatre Charlotte technical director Chris Timmons brings us a new set and lighting design, Jamey Varnadore lavishes 30 new costumes on the cast, and a new set of LED instruments, financed by an Arts & Science Council Power2Give initiative, fires up for the first time. Stuart Spencer, a former Fezziwig, directs.

The rock explosion has already begun, with The King and the Million Dollar Quartet holding court at Knight Theater (through Dec. 11) — boasting an Elvis, a Carl Perkins, and a Johnny Cash who are superior to those we saw on Broadway. Ol' Jerry Lee was pretty damn good, too, more than sufficiently thrilling my teeny-bopper wife Sue. The playlist is also better than the actual artifacts of the legendary Dec. 4, 1956, summit meeting, including "Hound Dog," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Fever," and a killer version of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On."

And what a wonderful place to hear that prime rock! So with a certain amount of trepidation, let's mention New Age superstar Jim Brickman, who also gets to take advantage of the fab Knight vibe in his one-afternoon run of A Christmas Celebration (Dec. 18). Saccharine attack warnings are in effect for that Sunday: After all, the noodling pianist recently devoted a full album to a Carpenters homage.

Then the answer to all your "Don't Stop Believing" arena-rock prayers — and the only theatrical answer to where you can take out-of-town guests between Christmas and New Year's — Rock of Ages (Dec. 26-31) hits Belk Theater with all its hyper-decibel force. Can you hear me? This pistol-packing papa is stacked with noise from Journey, Night Ranger, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, Asia, and Whitesnake, ready to do fresh damage to the pitiful remnants of your eardrums.

Actually, there is a softer alternative, as The Velveteen Rabbit (Dec. 9-30) lingers on at Wells Fargo Playhouse, the smaller ImaginOn venue, until those uplifting days when we redeem our holiday gifts at local merchants for what we really want. Velveteen has earned the stature of a classic in repeated Children's Theatre adaptations of the beloved Margery Williams book, becoming a special province of the company's traveling troupers, the Tarradiddle Players. Amid the rabid commercialism of the season, the Rabbit's simple journey reminds us that the greatest gift of all is simply being here.