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Holiday Inn

A Broadway Christmas: Musicals That Celebrate the Holiday

“We need a little Christmas”? Well, we have a whole lot of Christmas for Broadway musical fans. With the holiday season upon us, we at Broadway Direct thought we’d compile a list of the many Broadway musicals that have featured Christmas. From Christmas-themed musicals to unlikely shows that included the yuletide in the plot, here are 18 of them that are guaranteed to put you in the holiday mood.


Annie
Annie

Annie

It started as a popular comic strip, the story of a plucky orphan who finds a new home with a wealthy billionaire. Little Orphan Annie longs for her birth parents, and despite wanting to adopt the child himself, Daddy Warbucks initiates a nationwide search to find them. Ultimately, we learn they are deceased, and Annie accepts Warbucks’s offer to be her father. The 1977 musical Annie culminates in a Christmas celebration and with the joyous Charles Strouse–Martin Charnin song “A New Deal for Christmas.”

Billy Elliott: The Musical

A little boy growing up in a coal-mining community wants to be a dancer and must make his family see that this is his passion. The U.K. miners’ strike of 1984–1985 made for a difficult Christmas for those involved. In Billy Elliott: The Musical, the strikers gather in the local union hall where the kids put on a holiday show, singing “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher,” a pointed indictment of then prime minister Margaret Thatcher. The number by Elton John and Lee Hall was accompanied by a gigantic, cartoonish puppet of the song’s despised subject.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

The 1978 musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas might seem like an unlikely place to find Christmas music, but the Carol Hall number “Hard Candy Christmas” is one of the most potent holiday-themed show tunes to play on the Broadway stage. When Miss Mona learns that her popular brothel, known as “The Chicken Ranch,” is being closed down by the Texas government, she and her employees must say goodbye through this heartbreaking number. The song found a wider audience when Dolly Parton recorded the song for the 1982 film version.

A Christmas Story

We all know the film is played to death around the holidays, but the musical adaptation of A Christmas Story has its own pleasures in store. Our boy Ralphie is still pining away for his Red Ryder BB gun and working the system to ensure Santa brings him one. However, the stage production brings the story even more vividly to life through the Benj Pasek and Justin Paul score, with holiday-related gems such as “It All Comes Down to Christmas,” “Up on Santa’s Lap,” and the title song. A Christmas Story played a limited engagement on Broadway in 2012 and was then made into a television film.

Elf 

The comedy Elf starring Will Ferrell has been a holiday staple since it hit screens in 2003. In 2012, Matthew Sklar (music), Chad Beguelin (lyrics), and Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan (book) adapted the screenplay for the Broadway stage. Songs such as “Christmastown,” “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” “A Christmas Song,” and “There Is a Santa Claus” helped to tell the story of Buddy, the elf from the North Pole who sets off in search of his birth father.

Flahooley

A short-lived musical with a superior score by Sammy Fain and E.Y. Harburg, the 1951 musical Flahooley took place at B.G. Bigelow, Inc., a toy manufacturer getting ready for the big holiday release of their laughing doll known as Flahooley. A satirical indictment of capitalism and the McCarthy witch hunts (in which Harburg had been a major target), Flahooley was a surprisingly whimsical musical full of puppets, a genie, an Arabian princess, and a parade of wonderful songs, including “Who Says There Ain’t No Santa Claus?” Flahooley also launched the Broadway career of Barbara Cook.

Here’s Love

The author of the single greatest musical with a parade, Meredith Willson (The Music Man), decided to tackle another story about a famous parade. The composer-lyricist turned the holiday film classic Miracle on 34th Street into the Broadway musical Here’s Love, which opened in 1963 and ran for just less than a year. Set during the festive time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Santa Claus in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade insists that he is the real Kris Kringle, attempting to work his magic to bring happiness to a sad and skeptical little girl. In the musical, you will find Willson’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” a song he wrote in 1951, combined with the song “Pine Cones and Holly Berries.”

Holiday Inn
Bryce Pinkham, Megan Lawrence, and company in Holiday Inn. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Holiday Inn

The 1942 film Holiday Inn told the story of a retired performer who opens a Connecticut inn that is only open during the holidays. There, he and his performer friends sing and dance and re-create the act they did in NYC. A handful of Irving Berlin songs, most tethered to one holiday or another, made up the score. Of course, the film’s highlight was “White Christmas,” which won the Academy Award for best song. Holiday Inn was turned into a stage musical and made it to Broadway in 2016, courtesy of the Roundabout Theatre Company.

I Love My Wife

A musical about married folks mate-swapping in Trenton, New Jersey, may have very little to do with Christmas, but I Love My Wife was written in 1977, it was a different time, and swinging was in fashion. A Christmas Eve dinner between two married couples evolves into a foursome, with comedic implications and reflective moments. I Love My Wife features a score by Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart. Among the songs in the show is the bluesy “Lovers on Christmas Eve.”

Mame

“We Need a Little Christmas” is one of the many showstopping numbers in the 1966 musical comedy Mame. The Jerry Herman ditty has become a staple of Christmas, offering optimism and merriment any time of the year. In the musical, the proactive, outgoing Auntie Mame refuses to let the Great Depression get her down, even though she has gone bankrupt. Thanksgiving is a week away, but she decides to pull out the tinsel and holly and bring some cheer to her nephew and devoted house staff.

Meet Me in St. Louis

The 1944 MGM film classic Meet Me in St. Louis boasted a memorable score by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, including the now-classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” introduced by the great Judy Garland. Meet Me in St. Louis was given a Broadway adaptation in 1989, expanding the story of the Smith family, who are facing leaving their beloved hometown when their father is offered a promotion in New York City. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” served as an emotional climax in the stage production, a reminder that family and friends are what the season is all about.

 

Promises, Promises
Promises, Promises.

Promises, Promises

Though there has been much debate recently over whether the song “Turkey Lurky Time” is a Thanksgiving or Christmas song, the debate can be squelched in the context of the musical Promises, Promises. The song is sung at an office Christmas party for Consolidated Life, where the lonely Chuck Baxter is hoping to advance to the company’s upper echelons. With a score by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and a book by Neil Simon, Promises, Promises is adapted from the screenplay for the Academy Award–winning film The Apartment.

Rent

The 1996 Broadway musical sensation Rent follows a group of Bohemian artists struggling to stay in their home in Alphabet City rent-free. The close bond between these spunky characters is deeply felt when they spend Christmas with little money, but somehow find the spirit of the season. Jonathan Larson’s rock musical features a Christmas Eve celebration of all things that go against the grain in “La Vie Bohème,” and the second act commences with the characters reflecting on the new year with “Seasons of Love.”

<i>She Loves Me.</i>
She Loves Me.

She Loves Me

The 1963 Broadway Musical She Loves Me, set in a Hungarian parfumerie in the months leading up to Christmas, finds its pivotal romantic moment amid the holiday’s arrival. Georg and Amalia are coworkers who despise each other, but little do they know they are also in love with each other through an anonymous pen-pal relationship. The revelation of their true feelings happens right after closing the shop on Christmas Eve. She Loves Me features a score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, and a book by Joe Masteroff adapted from the beloved 1937 Miklós László play Parfumerie.

Sherry!

Not many people know that the hit George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart play The Man Who Came to Dinner was turned into a Broadway musical in 1967. The result was the short-lived Sherry!. When famous orator and radio personality Sheridan Whiteside breaks his hip at the Ohio home of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley, his recuperation involves taking over their home and ruining their Christmas. A parade of celebrities shows up at the house to pay homage to the star, running roughshod over the Stanleys to deliver holiday tidings to their dear “Sherry.”

Subways Are for Sleeping 

Another musical that only die-hard theater buffs know, Subways Are for Sleeping was a 1961 Broadway show with a score by Jule Styne (music) and Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics). The musical follows a news reporter writing an article about well-dressed homeless people who are sleeping on the subways of New York City, and about their leader who finds them odd jobs. Set during the winter, Subways Are for Sleeping of course ventures into Christmas and the parade of street corner Santas ringing bells for charity. The song “Be a Santa” is a lively celebration of what it means to wear the uniform of the iconic Mr. Claus.

White Christmas 

Irving Berlin composed one of the most recorded holiday songs of all time when he penned the classic “White Christmas,” sung by Bing Crosby. The song appeared in the 1942 film Holiday Inn, then became the basis for the 1954 film musical White Christmas, starring Crosby and Danny Kaye. That film, like so many movie musicals, finally found its way to the Broadway stage. In 2008, the story of two World War II veterans turned Broadway performers who set out to help their former military superior turned innkeeper delighted audiences with such songs as “Happy Holidays” and, of course, the iconic title song.

The Who's Tommy
The Who’s Tommy.

The Who’s Tommy 

Poised for a Broadway revival in 2021, the rock opera The Who’s Tommy tells the tale of the “deaf, dumb, and blind kid,” scarred by a traumatic incident, who grows into a pinball-playing sensation. In a sequence set during the holidays, Tommy’s family reflects upon how the child is left out of the joys of the season due to his conditions, claiming “Tommy doesn’t know what day it is” in the song “Christmas.” The song features music and lyrics by original The Who member Pete Townshend.

Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia, and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. His latest book, Sitcommentary: The Television Comedies That Changed America, was published October 15. He maintains a theater and entertainment blog at markrobinsonwrites.com.