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Seven holiday-themed stage shows that carry the spirit of the season 

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Nov. 23-Dec. 16

ELLEN TRAVOLTA PRESENTS CHRISTMAS UNWRAPPED

So many us have had memorable and meaningful experiences with gifts of Christmases past. Maybe it was a unique or unexpected present that marked a turning point in your relationship with the person who gave it. Or maybe, on a slightly sadder note, it was that one thing you desperately wanted but Santa never put beneath the tree. Stories like these are the theme of this year's popular annual holiday production emceed by Ellen Travolta. Featuring music and laughter along with some poignant storytelling, the celebration is directed by Troy Nickerson. Local stage and screen stars including Margaret Travolta, Molly Allen, Abbey Crawford and Patrick Treadway help bring the evening to life. The Coeur d'Alene Resort, $27.50, Thu-Sat at 7:30 pm, Sun at 5 pm. cdachristmas.com

Nov. 23-Dec. 16

HARRY CONNICK JR.'S THE HAPPY ELF

A live musical version of a 2005 animated TV holiday special featuring the voice and music of Harry Connick Jr. — which itself sprang from an eponymous song on the crooner's best-selling album Harry for the HolidaysThe Happy Elf tells a tale of the transformative power of Christmas cheer. Its star is Eubie the Elf, who's so jazzed about working at the North Pole that he sets out to help the citizens of Bluesville get their town off Santa's naughty list. This production featuring Spokane Children's Theatre's all-ages talent is directed by Jennifer Miles and geared especially for kids. The performance on Nov. 25 is ASL interpreted. Spokane Children's Theatre, $10-$14, show times vary; generally Fri at 7 pm, Sat-Sun at 2 pm. spokanechildrenstheatre.org

Nov. 27-Dec. 19 and Dec. 21-22

TWO CHRISTMAS-THEMED LIVE RADIO PLAYS

Going on six years now, It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play has been reappearing annually in new productions at different venues across the Inland Northwest. That shouldn't come as a surprise. Like the beloved Frank Capra movie on which it's based, this stage adaptation with an added narrative layer — that is, stage actors playing radio actors — has got an uplifting, seasonally inspired charm that has helped it become a holiday ritual for many.

For something slightly different in the same format, Spokane Civic Theatre Academy's Winter Workshop is staging Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus, a radio play inspired by the famed letter written by young Virginia O'Hanlon to the Sun newspaper in 1897. The editorial response by Francis Church, an avowed atheist, not only sought to reassure her of Santa's existence but of all the magical things undreamt of in our philosophies. This dramatic retelling directed by Kearney Jordan touches on the modern forms of communication that help bring us together. It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play: Best Western Plus Coeur d'Alene Inn, $20, Nov. 27-Dec. 19, Tue-Wed at 7 pm. cdainn.com. / Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus: Spokane Civic Theatre, $15, Dec. 21-22, Fri-Sat at 7:30 pm. spokanecivictheatre.com

Dec. 7-23

TRADITIONS OF CHRISTMAS

For those who want a little extra zhoosh in their holiday festivities, be sure not to miss this Heartland-meets-Radio City Music Hall production with show-stopping kickline tap numbers and military tributes. Now in its seventh year, Traditions of Christmas consistently pulls out all the stops to create a sight and sound spectacular with more glitz and glam than the tree at Rockefeller Center. The cast of 70 changes through more than 400 costumes to cover every aspect of the Yuletide season — from Santa's North Pole workshop to the Biblical nativity and a pageant of Christmas cultural traditions from around the world and through the ages. Salvation Army Kroc Center, $21-$34, showtimes vary. traditionsofchristmasnw.com

Dec. 13

A CHRISTMAS WITH C.S. LEWIS

"I should say that I much approve of merry-making," wrote C.S. Lewis, the famous British theologian and author of The Chronicles of Narnia, in an essay titled "What Christmas Means to Me." "But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business." This one-man show starring David Payne imagines Lewis being the very opposite of reticent as he plays host to a group of American writers in his home near Oxford in 1962. With the masterly rhetoric and sparkling humor for which he was renowned, Lewis relates his views on the significance of Christmas as well as his own personal path from atheism to religion. The Bing Crosby Theater, $15-$22.50, 7 pm. bingcrosbytheater.com

Dec. 13-23

THE LONG CHRISTMAS RIDE HOME

As a kind of counterweight to the cheery, sometimes twee holiday productions recounting perfect Christmases with perfect families, there's The Long Christmas Ride Home, Paula Vogel's 2003 play about a fraught car journey shared — or rather, endured — by a family of five as the parents' marriage disintegrates. Although the three young children are represented here by puppets, this isn't treading quite the same ground as, say, Avenue Q. Vogel's one-act work actually draws on an ancient style of Japanese theater called bunraku, which features puppets and a chanter (or narrator) along with continual music and sound effects. Susan Hardie directs. Stage Left Theater, $20, Thu-Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2 pm. spokanestageleft.org

Dec. 14-16

A CHRISTMAS PUDDING

Brimming with amusing and often heartwarming stories, carols, poems, monologues and other short (or excerpted) works by such literary luminaries as Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, George Bernard Shaw, Shakespeare, O. Henry and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, this rich anthology of holiday-oriented readings and songs is a longtime favorite of Ignite! and its audiences. Directed by Scott Finlayson with Paul Baldwin overseeing the music, A Christmas Pudding is presented as part of the theater's Booklight reader's series. Ignite! Community Theatre, $15, Thu-Sat at 7:30 pm, Sun at 2 pm. Igniteonbroadway.org

The original print version of this article was headlined "Being Present"

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