For decades, Minnesotans have had countless cultural options Nutcracker Suite, Black Nativity, A Christmas Carol and choral performances of Handel's Messiah to get into the holiday spirit.
But we never really have had anything to call our own. Until recently.
The Minnesota Orchestra's Home for the Holidays, an amalgam of what conductor/producer Sarah Hicks describes as "warm vignettes, physical humor" and of course seasonal music, mobilizes voices (literal and literary), talent (musical and theatrical) and most of all a Minnesota mindset that exemplifies and elucidates the state we proudly call home.
Hicks said she set out to model Home for the Holidays after the Boston Pops' annual Holiday Pops showcase.
"Boston is an iconic Christmas show," she said. "What I wanted was that kind of holiday program from a Minnesota point of view."
How Minnesotan is this production? Let us count the ways:
• Writer/performer Kevin Kling is the quintessential Minnesota essayist/humorist/storyteller and was selected as the Minneapolis Story Laureate by Mayor R.T. Rybak in 2014.
• Music director Hicks joined the Minnesota Orchestra in 2006 and has been the principal conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall for a decade.
• Contributing composers Peter Ostroushko and the late Stephen Paulus are and were lifelong Minnesotans. (OK, Paulus moved here at 2.) Arranger Robert Elhai and composer Eric McEnaney have lived here for decades.
• Choreographer Jim Lichtscheidl, stage director Peter Rothstein, art director Nancy Carlson, cast member Christina Baldwin: Yes, all longtime or lifelong Minnesotans.
Told from the dual perspectives of Kling as a child and an adult, Home for the Holidays uses the writer's jokes and anecdotes as bridges to the orchestra's pieces, which range from classical staples and Ostroushko's "Heart of the Heartland" to Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here" and the Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling."
Among Kling's favorite musical interludes: "We have a piece set to [Antonio] Vivaldi's 'Winter' [from The Four Seasons], and it's really hilarious and purely Minnesota," he said, "and a Hallelujah chorus that we made into a Christmas dinner."
The scenes that Kling and his younger version (played by Huxley Westemeier) share have been revelations of a sort.
"A lot of things we think of as adults as hilarious, as a kid it's not hilarious; it's life-threatening," he said. "There are very different perspectives on how a child would think and how an adult would think."
It took awhile for the show to come together. Hicks had been "dreaming about it" for the better part of a decade. She finally brought the concept to Grant Meachum, director of Live at Orchestra Hall, who then approached Elhai and Kling, who had been performing his one-man show Tales From the Charred Underbelly of the Yule Log at the Guthrie Theater for years.
"They wanted full-on Kevin Kling," the writer said, with a caveat: "but not a Minnesota idiosyncratic holiday show more like where are the holidays going, where have we been, where does this fit in the pantheon of Christmas shows."
In short order, the creative process ballooned mightily.
"There's good collaboration and collaboration hell," Kling said, "and this is good collaboration. It comes together pretty fast when I know the next piece of music. Or a couple of times I'd write a scene and Robert or Sarah would say, 'We know the perfect piece for this.' Every once in a while A Charlie Brown Christmas comes in.
"There was all this input from Sarah, Peter Rothstein, Robert doing adaptations of Christmas songs he did an entire opera! and also these amazing paintings and drawings by Nancy Carlson. Everybody has taken a lead at different times. Sometimes the music, sometimes the text, sometimes the choreography and sometimes the beautiful artwork."
Home for the Holidays launched in 2017 as what Hicks calls "sort of a grand experiment."
"We came in not knowing what to expect, and the audience didn't know what to expect," she said. "I think we did it [well] in spirit and overall construction. To see it come together was pretty magical."
That year, there was a single 70-minute program. Since then, the collaborators have tweaked and expanded the proceedings, which this year will come in at around two hours with an intermission.
"We found that there was just so much we could add," Hicks said. "We have been bringing together elements of the first two seasons and expanding upon the narrative, adding a couple of moments of reflection and giving the orchestra more moments to shine."
Kling also relished the opportunity to broaden the show, both for the result and the process.
"As a writer, to know who the cast is and what they can do is so important," he said. "They will bring something that I don't even see. When you let Christina Baldwin cut loose, the sky's the limit.
"It's a really different show, with a different feel and flavor, different music, a new choir this year. But some of pieces are too fun to let go. We always have a scene in a church, but every year something different happens in church."
Just like in real life, and in this case it's always imbued with a Minnesota perspective.
"All this homegrown talent, they bring their own personal experiences," Hicks said, adding another attribute of the local flavor. "The Minnesota part is so practical because extensive rehearsal [which would be needed with outside principals] doesn't make sense."
That enhances the fun factor, both behind the scenes and on stage.
"I have the best time doing this thing. We just laugh ourselves silly," Kling said. "This, to me, is the holidays. This kicks me into gear like nothing else. This'll put the tinsel in your toes."
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 14; 2 p.m. Dec. 15; 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19.
Where: Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.
Tickets: $35 to $70, available at minnesotaorchestra.org