The Circus Show It's three rings of provocative entertainment with the second offering of the UMKC Theatre Department's Festival of NOW (New Original Works), which promises to be no less political than the pre-election, Bush-bashing Fifteen Minute Window that kicked off the series this fall. Director Joe Price says he's been stewing over the concept for a year -- that is, holding up a funhouse mirror to social issues such as gay marriage. To get to something profound, the cast and crew create a literal circus atmosphere, complete with juggling, a trampoline and a pair of trapeze bars. December 3-17 at Studio 116 of the UMKC Performing Arts Center, 4949 Cherry, 816-235-6222.
The Gifts of the Magi Set in a cold and heartless New York City in 1905, Mark St. Germain and Randy Courts' musical adaptation of the familiar O. Henry tale has been lauded more for its storytelling than for its songs. Leayn Losh directs TBA Players' production, one that follows its two young lovers, Jim and Della, from Smalltown U.S.A. to the Big Apple, where they meet unemployment and poverty. By secretly selling their respective prized possessions, the pair demonstrate a steely determination to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday -- acts which, of course, O. Henry swaddles in irony. Through Dec. 11 at Just Off Broadway, 3051 Central, 816-444-2459.
Jesus Christ Superstar Around this time of year, the true meaning of Christmas gets buried in Santa's toy bag below a stack of crap. A cool route toward a spiritual connection could certainly be a rousing production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Theater League welcomes the official U.S. tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group, which heightens the probability that the show will do the piece justice. The musical's take on biblical history has been challenged from its birth, but it set the standard for every successive rock musical and needs to be seen every few years to truly appreciate its artistry. Through Dec. 4 at the Music Hall, 301 W. 13th St., 816-931-3330.
The Ritz Cracker Suite The Martin City Melodrama & Vaudeville Company thumbs its nose at Tchaikovsky with its spoof of his Christmas perennial, "The Nutcracker." Brimming with parodies of both holiday standards and classic compositions, the show twists familiar images such as the nubile nutcrackers by seasoning the chorus line with a couple of Mouseketeers and tweaks the ballet's most famous sequence with something called "The Dance of the Sugar Prune Fairies." Director Jeanne Beechwood has made a couple of interesting casting choices: Marcie Ramirez and David Reyes, who have given compelling performances at, respectively, Quality Hill Playhouse and the Unicorn. Through Jan. 2 at Martin City Melodrama & Vaudeville Co., Metcalf South Shopping Center, 9601 Metcalf in Overland Park, 913-642-7576.
Sanders Family Christmas There's nothing blatantly off-putting about the 27 songs that season this show. It's that time of year, and the onslaught is upon us. In fact, it may be the perfect show for the locals who ensured that Kansas and Missouri remained red states. Democrats still licking their wounds and/or people of non-Christian denominations may feel, though, a little like a Christmas goose being force-fed something unpalatable, because the show's religiosity is laid on with a trowel. Still, Sarah Crawford is entertaining as the family's tin-eared black sheep. She could have mugged throughout but skirts the temptation every time. Through Jan. 2 at the American Heartland Theatre, 2450 Grand, 816-842-9999.
Talk Radio The Lawrence-based E.M.U. Theatre's production of Eric Bogosian's 1985 play Talk Radio could prove to be the perfect antidote to a depressingly prudish and reactionary FCC. The darkly funny play is loosely based on Denver radio personality Alan Berg, whose left-wing views so riled people that he was gunned down outside his home in 1984. Bogosian's fictitious take on the antagonist is Cleveland shock jock Barry Champlain (played by Andrew Stowers), whose late-night gabfest stirs bile from both sides of the microphone. Dec. 3-12 at the E.M.U. Theatre at Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread in Lawrence, 785-218-0816.
'Twas the Night Before Christmas Creatures are indeed stirring at the Coterie this holiday season in Lowell Swortzell's biographical play about the creation of the classic poem and its author, Clement Clark Moore. Rumor has it that, despite penning such jolly lines as "His eyes, how they twinkled; his dimples how merry," Moore was actually a dour academic. (One Vassar professor confidently doubts that Moore even wrote it.) Plowing forward anyway, the Coterie's show finds the author, played by Tom Woodward, on Christmas Eve circa 1822, surrounded by the family that inspired his tale. Through Dec. 30 at the Coterie, 2450 Grand, 816-474-6552.