Ain’t Misbehavin’ Porchlight Music Theatre’s superb rendition of this ingenious 1978 Broadway hit celebrates composer Thomas “Fats” Waller and his world, the Harlem jazz scene of the 1920s and ’30s. Conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horwitz, the show strings together more than two dozen classic tunes written and/or recorded by Waller, including “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now,” and the title song. Director-choreographer Brenda Didier and musical director Jaret Landon have assembled a top-flight cast and band who capture the score’s ebullient energy and swinging stylishness. The production is sleek but slightly scruffy, as befits the rambunctious, syncopated music. –Albert WilliamsThrough 12/20: Thu 7:30 PM (no show 11/26), Fri 8 PM, Sat 4 and 8 PM, Sun 2 PM; also Fri 11/27, 2:30 PM; Thu 12/10, 1:30 PM, Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, porchlightmusictheatre.org, $32-$45.
Angina Pectoris Hard-line Israeli defense minister Dan Yasour gets a law passed requiring Jews to receive transplant organs only from Jewish donors. Now he needs a new heart, and the only available one came from an Arab chest. New York cardiologist Gal Schechnik, head of the lefty nonprofit Jewish Doctors for Peace and Other Things, gets himself appointed head surgeon, and finds he has eyes for Yasour’s right-wing daughter, Masada. Masada’s even righter-wing fiance, Mitanya, converts the frozen heart to Judaism in the OR. Israeli playwright Michal Aharoni’s 90-minute political satire has more promise than payoff thanks to scattershot plotting, underdeveloped characters, and ever-shifting rules of engagement. Director David Y. Chack’s stilted production for Shpiel Performing Identity demonstrates few moments of successful comic timing. –Justin HayfordThrough 12/30: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM (no show 11/26), Sun 2 PM, Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, 773-975-8150, theaterwit.org, $28.
Based on a True Story Here we have yet another variation on a familiar theme: the fully improvised show. In this version a guest celebrity is interviewed live, after which the ensemble creates a series of improvisations inspired—directly or indirectly—by whatever the celeb has brought up. Because both the guest and the cast (culled from a group of more than 40 performers) change weekly, it’s nearly impossible to predict what any given show will be like. But the night I saw it, the interview portion was so fascinating and the guest—SNL alum Nora Dunn—so gracefully witty, it was hard not to see the funny but not extraordinary improvisations as commercial breaks in a high-quality talk show. Upcoming guests include Paul Meincke (11/28), Julia Sweeney (12/5), and D.B. Sweeney (12/19). –Jack HelbigThrough 12/26: Sat 9 PM, Under the Gun Theater, 956 W. Newport, 773-270-3440, undertheguntheater.com, $15.
A Christmas Carol: The Musical The Christmas Eve conversion of miser Ebenezer Scrooge is put to music in this 1994 adaptation of Charles Dickens’s beloved novella. Lyricist Lynn Ahrens (who also wrote the book, with Mike Ockrent) and composer Alan Menken have been involved in the creation of many notable musicals, but it’s unlikely that their contributions here, which have more in common with “Good King Wenceslas” than “Silent Night,” will be appearing on anybody’s caroling set list any time soon. Andrew Park’s production for Quest Theatre Ensemble is filled with cheer and goodwill, but poor traffic control on a small stage causes trouble throughout. Nick Rupard’s papier-mache puppets stand in for the children in the tale; Tiny Tim bears an unfortunate resemblance to alleged serial killer Robert Durst. –Zac ThompsonThrough 12/20: Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 PM, Blue Theatre, 1609 W. Gregory, 312-458-0895, FREE.
A Christmas Carol I used to find Dickens sentimental; now I think he’s profound. There’s something subversive even in his creation of capitalist everyman Ebenezer Scrooge (Larry Yando), whose grumpy isolation (the illusion of separateness, the Buddhists would call it) is an adaptive defense. When Scrooge’s nephew, Fred (Anish Jethmalani), reminds him that we humans are, after all, mere “fellow passengers to the grave,” Scrooge won’t hear it. But after a night of spectral visitations—including one from his former partner, Jacob Marley (Joe Foust)—he realizes just that: we are inextricably bound, and our time here is short. Director Henry Wishcamper’s production always brings something newly revelatory to the beloved story, and in his eighth year as Scrooge, Yando remains impishly delightful in his portrayal of a man gifted with the chance to make amends. There are many returning favorites here, and relative newcomers—including the commanding Ghosts of Christmas Past (Travis A. Knight) and Present (Lisa Gaye Dixon). –Suzanne ScanlonThrough 12/27: Thu noon and 7:30 PM (no show 11/26), Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 and 6:30 PM, Wed 7:30 PM; also Wed 12/9, noon; Tue 12/22, 2 and 7:30 PM; Wed 12/23, 2 PM, Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, 312-443-3800, goodmantheatre.org, $26-$102.
Incident at Vichy Set in occupied France during World War II, Arthur Miller’s 1964 drama throws us into a holding cell with ten men who have been rounded up by Nazi officials, ostensibly for a routine check of their identity papers. As they’re led off to be interrogated one by one, it dawns on us that each man is or is suspected of being a Jew, and that those who are will be put on a freight train headed east. In this sharp and moving revival, director Ian Frank uses Redtwist Theatre’s close quarters to claustrophobic effect, creating a menacing atmosphere of tense whispers and flickering lightbulbs. A uniformly excellent cast communicates the terror of the situation as well as the continued relevance of Miller’s argument about our responsibilities to the oppressed. –Zac ThompsonThrough 12/27: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM, Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, 773-728-7529, redtwist.org, $30-$35, seniors $25-$30.
No More Sad Things Kahekili is a young Hawaiian native in love with the ocean; Jessiee is a 32-year-old midwesterner maxing out her credit cards on an impromptu solo vacation. Both follow some mystical inspiration, personified by a ukulele-strumming guide, to a standard meet-cute on a tourist island. It quickly takes a peculiar twist in Honsol Jung’s truly one-of-a-kind romantic comedy, which like its title takes on conflicting double meanings. Elly Green’s production for Sideshow Theatre brilliantly capitalizes on every subtle shade of melancholy in Jung’s darkly comedic script, but there’s an authentic joie de vivre in play too. Katy Carolina Collins and George Infantado create a discordant dynamic that works seemingly by magic. Can an emotional crisis really be uplifting? –Dan JakesThrough 12/20: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM (no show 11/26), Sun 3 PM, Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, 773-871-3000, victorygardens.org, $20-$25.
The Nutcracker The House Theatre’s gorgeous, arresting annual holiday show bears only a faint resemblance to Tchaikovsky’s ballet. Instead of bratty kids and sugarplum fairies, Jake Minton and Phillip Klapperich’s tightly spun book introduces a family wracked by tragic loss. But magic still abounds, and in quantities that will bring a tear to the eye of even the stingiest Grinch. Though it isn’t dance in the traditional sense, director Tommy Rapley’s dazzling choreography infuses every scene. The show’s one weakness might be the musical numbers, which are mercifully brief and few. But in plotting, performance, and visual design, it’s a nearly flawless, truly essential all-ages holiday show. In a world of treacle and dross, that such a thing exists is a Christmas miracle of its own. –Keith GriffithThrough 12/31: Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 3 and 7:30 PM, Sun 3 and 7 PM, Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, 773-769-3832, chopintheatre.com, $25-$45.
Palace of the Occult Con man and court-proven psychic, circus performer and Weimar A-lister, Jew and Nazi insider, Erik Jan Hanussen was a singularly fascinating conundrum, as actor and magician Neil Tobin struggles to make clear in his one-man show, presented by Eclectic Full Contact Theatre. It’s 1933, and a smarmy, beguiling, unaccountably self-effacing Hanussen welcomes us to the grand opening of his occult palace, a museum cum sideshow where he, curiously, tells his life story in protracted yet sketchy detail (he drops in a few magic tricks that, while not particularly difficult to figure out, add much-needed intrigue). Tobin’s an engaging, mannered performer with a gift for gracious audience interaction. But he’s well into act two before he finds the historical import of Hanussen’s story—making most of act one feel comparatively empty. –Justin HayfordThrough 12/20: Fri 8 PM, Sat 4 and 8 PM, Sun 7 PM, Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston, 773-539-7838, palaceoftheoccult.com, $30-$35.
Private Lives ShawChicago presents Noël Coward’s 1930 comedy in a concert reading, with minimal staging and actors reading from scripts. The classic play concerns Elyot and Amanda, a divorced couple who fall in love all over again when they run into each other while honeymooning with their new spouses. Elyot (Michael Lasswell) and Amanda (Mary Michell) are temperamental, madcap nonconformists whose reignited romance flares in alternating bursts of passionate lovemaking and furious fighting. Under Barbara Zahora’s direction, Lasswell and Michell don’t quite achieve the flippant insouciance required for their characters—roles Coward created for himself and Gertrude Lawrence—but their mastery of the language brings out the delicious musicality of Coward’s fast-flying repartee, a distinctive mix of sophisticated elegance and screwball absurdity. –Albert WilliamsThrough 12/14: Sat-Sun 2 PM, Mon 7 PM, Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, 312-337-6543, shawchicago.org, $30, $25 seniors, $15 students.
Sad Songs for Bad People A little late for Halloween, Rough House Puppet Theater offers an evening for those who, as a cast member put it, like to “wave across the river Styx from the safety of the bank.” The show is often brutish in execution and certainly brief at little more than an hour, even with guest artists supplying opening acts. (The night I attended, Molly Brennan and the formidably impish Malic White presented a tease for their upcoming Pop Waits.) But it’s never really nasty as it puppetizes nine songs ranging from Dolly Parton’s kitschy “Me and Little Andy” (“patty cake and bakersman, my mommy ran away again”) to Nick Cave’s psychotic “Milhaven” (“I got a pretty little mouth underneath all the foam”). The tone hovers at goofish fun despite an ineffective dramatic device. The high point is a cantastoria-style retelling of the cowboy ballad “Step It Out Nancy.” –Tony AdlerThrough 12/12: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM (no show 11/26), Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland, 773-275-5255, neofuturists.org, $15.
The Santaland Diaries Funny, campy, foul-mouthed, and festive, Theater Wit’s The Santaland Diaries stars Mitchell Fain in role of Crumpet, a Macy’s holiday elf with a frisky, irreverent attitude and big glass of white wine for his breaks. Fain gives us the elf’s-eye view of holiday shopping season, miming all the hilariousness of mall culture with rubber-faced ease; he’ll riff on anyone and anything, and pulls it all off joyfully. In fact, his soaring energy sometimes puts him at odds with the droll deadpan of the David Sedaris story on which the show is based. Nonetheless, this is great holiday fun. –Max MallerThrough 12/30: Thu-Fri 7:30 PM (no show 11/26), Sat 7:30 and 9:30 PM (except 12/5, 7:30 PM only), Sun 3 PM; also Sun 12/20 and 12/27, 7 PM; Mon 12/28, Tue 12/22 and 12/29, and Wed 12/23 and 12/30, 7:30 PM, Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, 773-975-8150, theaterwit.org, $28-$35.
Tea Talk about your underrepresented minorities. Velina Hasu Houston’s one-act looks at the quiet desperation of women few have spoken about much less for: Japanese war brides who came to the United States with their GI husbands after WWII. Estranged from Japan, alien to America, hidden away in Podunk towns when their husbands were career soldiers, they had only one another to remind them who they were. Houston imagines five such brides meeting for tea after the suicide of one of their number. The dead woman is present too, hoping the gathering will give her peace. There’s great potential here, but Houston undermines it with stock characters—the would-be aristocrat and her sycophant, the consummate assimilationist, and so on. As staged for Prologue Theatre by Helen Young, the production fails to unify the script’s naturalistic passages with its bouts of poetry. –Tony AdlerThrough 12/13: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM (no show 11/26); also Mon 11/30, 7:30 PM, Side Project Theatre Company, 1439 W. Jarvis, 773-973-2150, prologuetheatreco.org, $25.