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The 99-Seat Beat: For holiday laughs and human kindness, head for L.A.'s small stages

The 99-Seat Beat: For holiday laughs and human kindness, head for L.A.'s small stages
“Santasia — A Holiday Comedy” at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks mashes up funny sketches, short films, animation and musical parodies. Pictured here, from left: co-creator Brandon Loeser with Lon Gowan, Richard Warren and James Elden (Whitefire Theatre)

At this time of year, tradition reigns supreme. The focus this week in our small-theater roundup is on long-running seasonal shows — two broadly comic, one reverent — that have loyal fan bases through the years. Also included is an outlier — “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” about a drag revue in the Florida panhandle. After all, Christmas pantos rely heavily on drag, so consider that a seasonal tradition as well.

‘La Virgen de Guadalupe’ at the L.A. cathedral

The essentials: Those mindful of the reason for the season may find an embarrassment of riches in this reenactment of the miracle at Guadalupe, during which the Virgin Mary repeatedly appeared to Mexican peasant Juan Diego, later to become the first indigenous saint from the Americas. Now in its 16th season, “La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin” stars celebrated opera singer Suzanna Guzmán and features a cast of 100, including Aztec dancers and non-professional participants from the community. Performed in Spanish with English subtitles, the production by the Latino Theater Company in association with the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is billed as L.A.’s largest theatrical holiday production.

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Why this? The cathedral is an appropriately spectacular setting for a show with big universal themes. Director José Luis Valenzuela calls it a holiday gift for all Angelenos, citing the crisis at the border as an example of how the story remains relevant. “At a time when we find our community vilified and our families separated, I think the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego shows that the belief in human kindness can be miraculous,” he says. The show runs for two nights only.

Details: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., L.A. 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Admission is free; reserved seats available for $40. (866) 811-4111. thelatc.org

Suzanna Guzmán stars in "La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin" at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
Suzanna Guzmán stars in "La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin" at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. (Latino Theater Company)

‘Bob’s Holiday Office Party’ in Atwater

The essentials: The epicenter of eccentricity just may be Neuterburg, Iowa, population 382, where steamy subterranean lives could rival “Fifty Shades of Grey.” When a bevy of the most outlandish characters show up at insurance agent Bob Finhead’s alcohol-fueled holiday bash, secrets are spilled, tensions run high, and hilarity ensues. Will Bob escape this small-town Gomorrah for a new life in the big city, or has he been so neutered by Neuterburg that he is stuck there for good?

Why this? Joe Keyes and Rob Elk’s offbeat comedy has been delighting audiences for 23 years, a proven draw not only for theatergoers but for its cast members, who return year after year to take part in the fun. For those who like their entertainment on the risqué side, “Office Party” could be a welcome departure from the season’s sentimentality.

Details: Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, through Dec. 20; plus 7 p.m. Dec. 16. $25-$35. (800) 838-3006. bobs23.brownpapertickets.com

"Bob's Holiday Office Party," drinking a little too much for the 23rd year.
"Bob's Holiday Office Party," drinking a little too much for the 23rd year. (Michelle Pedersen)

‘Santasia’ at the Whitefire Theatre

The essentials: A mashup of comedy sketches, short films, animation and musical parodies, the free-wheeling “Santasia — A Holiday Comedy” by Shaun and Brandon Loeser is the theatrical equivalent of a variety show from television’s golden age, albeit with a decidedly bawdy and topical edge. Familiar bits from past productions are interspersed with new material each year.

Why this? Now in its 19th year, “Santasia” commands devoted fans. The action is lively, the sketches are inventive, and the laughs keep coming.

Details: Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 and 8 p.m. Sundays, ends Dec. 23. $28-$40. (818) 990-2324. santasia.com

‘Georgia McBride’ at ETC in Santa Barbara

The essentials: In “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” downtrodden Elvis impersonator Casey has a pregnant wife, a nowhere career at a run-down bar in the Florida panhandle and zero money in the bank. When Casey’s act is replaced by a drag show, it seems he has hit rock bottom. But under the tutelage of an aging drag queen, Casey gains new traction as Georgia McBride, a lip-syncing star who brings in the crowds long after Elvis has left the building.

Why this? First produced in Denver 2014, Matthew Lopez’s musical moved off-Broadway in 2015, followed by an equally well-received 2017 Geffen Playhouse run. Veteran director Jenny Sullivan will helm this production for the Ensemble Theatre Company, which under the artistic direction of Jonathan Fox is fast gaining a reputation for taking on challenging and celebrated shows.

Details: Ensemble Theatre Company at the New Vic, 33 W. Victoria St., Santa Barbara. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 23. Additional shows 7 p.m. Dec. 11 and 4 p.m. Dec. 15. $60-$75. (805) 965-5400. etcsb.org

Stephen Michael Spencer stars in the Ensemble Theatre Company production of "The Legend of Georgia McBride."
Stephen Michael Spencer stars in the Ensemble Theatre Company production of "The Legend of Georgia McBride." (Jeanne Tanner)

The 99-Seat Beat appears every Friday. Our reviewers shortlist offerings with an emphasis on smaller venues. Some recommendations are shows we've seen; others are based on the track record of the company, playwright, director or cast. You can find comprehensive theater listings every Sunday at latimes.com/arts.

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