Betsy Baker, Lance Retallick and Erin Philpott perform in Artists’ Ensemble’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Dec. 15-17 at Rockford University’s Cheek Theater, in Rockford.

4 Holiday-Inspired Shows to Enjoy This Season

For loved ones who prefer “experiences” over “gifts,” why not consider gifting them tickets to a holiday-themed show? Here are some of the best plays, musicals and concerts happening in our area this holiday season.

Betsy Baker, Lance Retallick and Erin Philpott perform in Artists’ Ensemble’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Dec. 15-17 at Rockford University’s Cheek Theater, in Rockford.
Betsy Baker, Lance Retallick and Erin Philpott perform in Artists’ Ensemble’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Dec. 15-17 at Rockford University’s Cheek Theater, in Rockford. (John Cobb photo)

There’s no place like home for the holidays, and no need to travel to Chicago, Milwaukee or Madison for top-notch entertainment. Our region offers all the music, meaning and magic anyone of any age could ask for. So, instead of wrestling with tape and wrapping paper, why not give your loved ones tickets to a show in town?
Open your calendars and start marking dates in December for holiday-inspired performances found right here in the community.

Artists’ Ensemble

For many Midwesterners, the classic Jimmy Stewart movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” is a must-see, must-share holiday classic. That’s one reason why Artists’ Ensemble (AE) is remounting its dramatic adaptation of the favorite in an unusual and appealing way.
“The play is presented as if it were a 1947 radio broadcast with a live studio audience,” says AE artistic director Richard Raether. “Six actors perform multiple roles and create the live sound effects. It was one of our top-selling shows in 2012, and most of the original cast has returned for this performance.”
Lance Retallick, a Chicago-based actor, plays the lead role of George Bailey, while the remainder of the cast is local talent. Raether plays the dual roles of Mr. Potter and George’s guardian angel Clarence. The cast includes Tom Dolson, Andrew Harth, Lisa Turbyville and Erin Philpott.
The staged effect is both dramatic and visually arresting, having the appeal of the original screenplay overlaid with the fun of a nostalgic radio presentation.
AE presents “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Friday, Dec. 15, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 16, at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 17, at 2 p.m. All performances take place at Rockford University’s Cheek Theater at 5050 E. State St., in Rockford. Tickets are $19 for adults and $10 for students. Call the AE box office at (815) 394-5004 or buy tickets online at

The Coronado Performing Arts Center

Music lovers have their pick of several performances that celebrate the best of the holiday season, many of which are held at the Coronado Performing Arts Center. This iconic showplace originally opened in October 1927 to present staged performances and movies. Because of the Coronado’s astounding acoustics, musicals are particularly satisfying, making the Coronado a logical choice for theatrical performances and concerts.
The Coronado, with its lavish decor and vintage charm, is the ideal setting for “Christmas Wonderland,” a Chicago-based stage performance that promises to be one of the most enchanting shows of the season. Christmas Wonderland features glittering costumes, a dazzling cast and high-kicking chorus girls. Audience members adventure along with Santa and his merry helpers on a nostalgic Christmas journey. Songs include “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Have Yourself A Very Merry Christmas,” “Chestnuts Roasting,” “Jingle Bells,” “Away In A Manger,” “Silent Night,” “Deck The Halls,” “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” “O Holy Night” and many more.
Christmas Wonderland is a one-night-only event on Friday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Coronado, 314 N. Main St. in downtown Rockford. Tickets start at $27.50 and are available in advance from the Coronado box office or from the BMO Harris Bank Center box office at 300 Elm St. Tickets can also be purchased online at

The Rockford Symphony Orchestra

The Coronado is also the destination for the Rockford Symphony Orchestra’s (RSO) annual holiday pops concert, this year featuring the nationally acclaimed vocal group Five by Design, based in Minnesota.
RSO’s music director, Steve Larsen, says the holiday pops concert is the result of a carefully thought-out process.
“I spend a great amount of time not only researching ideas for each concert, but also finding the excellent quality talent needed to make it outstanding,” he says.
Larsen’s choice of Five by Design was based on the group’s unique style, which embraces unforgettable melodies, lush harmonies and swinging rhythms. The nationally acclaimed group has performed for hundreds of thousands of people and is known for its fresh, innovative take on holiday favorites as well as original tunes.
This year’s program features a blended rendition of “Happy Holidays” and “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” plus “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “The New 12 Days of Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride” and Burl Ives’s popular “Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Let It Snow,” “Winter Wonderland,” “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” “Silent Night” and more.
The RSO performs its annual holiday pops concert on Friday, Dec. 16, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 17, at 3 p.m. at the Coronado. Tickets range from $25 to $65 with student tickets priced at $9. Purchase tickets in advance at the Coronado or the RSO box office at 711 N. Main St., or by calling (815) 965-0049. Tickets are also available at

J.R. Sullivan’s Hometown Holiday

For a unique take on holiday musical entertainment, Rockford residents wait for J.R. Sullivan’s Hometown Holiday event with great expectations. A Rockford Christmas mainstay for more than 20 years, Hometown Holiday is the creation of J.R. Sullivan, who continues to dazzle, charm and surprise audiences with his warm, personal performances.
Sullivan custom-makes a new holiday-inspired story each year for the Rockford community. This year’s performance happens Dec. 8-10 at the Nordlof Center, in Rockford. It includes holiday-inspired storytelling, comedy, and seasonal and popular songs. General seating tickets are $25, available at the BMO Harris Bank Center and Coronado box offices, at, or by calling (815) 968-0595. For more information, visit

The Perfect Gift

When it comes to seasonal and holiday happenings, there’s much to anticipate. So, whether you indulge yourself or surprise loved ones with tickets as a gift, all of the wonder, color, sound, music and joy are just down the street.