Nothing else gets Janet Page into the holiday spirit like a visit to the Kimmel Center for a Christmas concert with the Philly Pops.
"It's so pretty and festive," the boomer show-goer said. "And the Philly Pops program is grand."
A hop-skip away at the Academy of Music, Barbara Edelstein was shepherding granddaughter Audrey Melnick, 12, plus pal Samantha Woolworth, on their seventh annual visit to the Pennsylvania Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker.
"I never get tired of the dancing," Melnick said.
And this time, Melnick "is paying extra attention to the [ballet] orchestra's" rendition of the Tchaikovsky score, said her grandmother. "She's just started playing the violin."
Just a few blocks away, seventy-something sisters Diana and Barbara Corbett and cousin Margaret Corbett were feeling the heart tugs of A Christmas Story: The Musical at the Walnut Street Theatre.
They all agreed that this homey musical was "one of the best things" they had ever seen - "funny, touching and truthful - a lot like the Christmases we had growing up in Mount Ephraim," Diana Corbett said.
Dominating the local entertainment scene from mid-November to New Year's, Philadelphia's big batch of holiday theatricals is the gift that keeps on giving.
Show-goers make these shows a family outing year after year, said David Gray, executive director of the Pennsylvania Ballet.
And the arts groups derive up to half of their revenues from these shows.
The Nutcracker "will generate 45 to 50 percent of all the tickets we sell annually and 20 to 25 percent of our $13 million budget," Gray said.
The Philly Pops' regular series brings in 25,000 to 30,000 attendees total. "Our 10 Christmas shows will bring in another 20,000 concertgoers."
In the end, the Christmas pops-capades "are responsible for one-third of Philly Pops ticket revenue annually," said vice president Karen Corbett.
The ensemble's holiday feast may be even juicier this year thanks to the album A Philly Pops Christmas. Recorded live on Dec. 6 at Verizon Hall, it was on sale in the Kimmel Center lobby just five days later.
Bustling with morning, hour-long renditions of "A Christmas Carol" for school groups (a 15-year Walnut tradition) plus afternoon/evening performances of A Christmas Story for nine weeks, the season is also "enormous" for the Walnut Street Theatre, said artistic director Bernard Havard.
"Our two seasonal shows will generate in excess of $1.8 million in single ticket sales, on top of the $1.5 million we get from subscription sales for A Christmas Story. And if we didn't have a success with our big holiday show, it could cripple us."
No worries on that. The show is notching the best box office returns in the Walnut's 32-year holiday show history. "Last week we grossed $17,000 more than Mary Poppins did the same week last year," Havard said.
This musical is also huge for its Philly-spawned songwriter, Benj Pasek, and his writing partner, Justin Paul. "This season, 50 different productions of A Christmas Story are playing in regional theaters from here to Hawaii, while a national touring company is visiting another seven cities," said Pasek, 30. "It's a dream come true for young writers to see their show live on."
And the success has given them the fiscal freedom to pursue other dreams, such as Dear Evan Hansen, a soon-landing-in-New York musical based partly on Pasek's days at Friends' Central.
Such diverse programming also is key to the Kimmel Center's biggest-ever holiday season, with "30 ticketed events, plus lots of free shows, the most we've ever done," said sales vice president Crystal Brewe.
The repertoire ranges from Tuesday night's sold-out A Soulful Christmas to the Mexican-themed Christmas Posada and the 100 horns-strong Tuba Christmas (Friday and Sunday lobby freebies). The Kimmel also is welcoming a new musical for wee ones, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, playing Thursday through Sunday at the Merriam.
As for those who take a less-than-sacred view of the season, note antidotes such as the Skivvies' show Naughty or Nice, with the cabaret pop duo playing in their underwear from Thursday to Saturday in the Kimmel's SEI Innovation Theater, or the Kimmel Presents return of The Book of Mormon at the Forrest Theatre through Dec. 27.
Twisting traditions is a goofy, British-style holiday "panto" called The Three Musketeers (The Later Years) at People's Light in Malvern and the seasonal return of the hard-rocking Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday.
While most arena-rock, pop, and country headliners lay low this time of year, TSO's heavy holiday riffage on "The Ghosts of Christmas Eve" will "likely sell out both shows" (3 and 8 p.m.) here, said Ike Richman, the center's vice president of public relations.