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Stars galore guarantee a magical festive season

AT Christmas we somehow manage to work and play, unearthing a stamina that lies dormant for the rest of the year. But as fun as the pub is, nothing will get you in the festive mood more than a panto or a musical.

Luckily, there are tons of amazing shows on around the country this year for all the family to enjoy. The problem is choosing between them.

The Helix plays host to the Disney classic Aladdin. George McMahon, probably best known for his role as Mondo in Fair City, takes the principal role, with the beautiful classically trained singer, model and actress Martha Christie as Princess Jasmine. By all accounts it's a "visual feast of costumes and set, with a side-splittingly funny script".

The people of Galway, too, will be whisked away on a magic carpet in Renmore's production of Aladdin, which was written by Peter Kennedy and which will run at the Town Hall Theatre for 20 performances from December 30 until Sunday, January 15.

At the Tivoli Theatre in Dublin, The Cheerios Panto Sleeping Beauty will see TV3 star Alan Hughes head up the all-star cast in a show that was written by his husband Karl Broderick.

There's glamour galore with the beautiful Michele McGrath appearing in the role of the queen. Eurovision winner Niamh Kavanagh plays the evil queen. RTE presenter Rob Ross plays the prince.

"We are delighted to have such a talented cast lined up for this year's panto," says Karl, while Alan adds: "It's going to be absolutely magical". Sleeping Beauty, which is directed by seasoned pro Michael Scott, will run from December 14 until January 15.

The Everyman Palace in Cork will treat audiences to a production of Beauty and the Beast, starring West-End star Michael Sands as the Prince/ Beast and introducing Julie Kelleher as Beauty.

Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates, starring Samantha Mumba, takes over the Gaiety Theatre until January 29.

Samantha will play the role of the feisty and fun Girl Friday. "It is such a great opportunity to be part of a tradition I really love. It also gives me the opportunity to spend lots of time with my own family here in Dublin at the same time -- what could be better?" she says.

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The cast also includes comic pair Richie Hayes as Achew Crusoe and Michael Grennell as Birdseye Crusoe. The role of Robinson Crusoe will be played by Dubliner Brian Gilligan.

Jedward will delight audiences at The Olympia Theatre in Dublin, from December 21 to January 8, in Jedward & The Beanstalk. The brothers will be joined once again by Linda Martin as 'Mama Gaga'. The show will also feature an all-singing, all-dancing cast of 100 kids.

But don't worry if panto isn't your thing, there are tons of other Christmas musical events on offer. At the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin, Sister Act The Musical, takes over from Irving Berlin's White Christmas, which finishes on Saturday. Direct from its record breaking run at the London Palladium, Sister Act will wow Dublin audiences from December 20 until January 7.

For classical music aficionados, The Pasadena Roof Orchestra will perform in the National Concert Hall on December 17. The show, entitled Merry Christmas, will be jam-packed with great tunes, including White Christmas, Winter Wonderland and The Savoy 1920 Christmas Medley, to name but a few.

Also on at the National Concert Hall, Jessie Buckley, the bright young star of musical theatre from Kerry who came to public prominence in the BBC's I'd Do Anything, takes to the stage with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra for a Christmas Gala performance on Thursday, December 22. The concert will be presented by Gay Byrne, with David Arnold conducting.

For live theatre with a difference, head to the Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre where they are hosting an interactive medieval Christmas as part of their guided tour. You'll discover the origins of the Christmas box, the piggy bank, carol singing and the wearing of Christmas holly.

In the days before Christmas, there's nothing quite like a carol service to capture the mood. Singing a wide variety of classic carols and modern favourites, the renowned Christ Church Cathedral choir, which dates back to 1480, will rouse the audience with their Christmas concert in the cathedral itself on December 15.

So, lots to see and do to ensure that you feel warm, fuzzy and festive, comparable to the effects one would experience from a few hours in the pub, but without the sore head, empty wallet and hazy memories.

Further information is available from the venues' websites: www.thehelix.ie, www.tht.ie, www.tivoli.ie, www.everymanpalace.com, www.gaietytheatre.com, www.mcd.ie/venues/?c=olympiatheatre, www.grandcanaltheatre.ie, www.nch.ie, www.dalkeycastle.com, www.christchurchdublin.ie

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