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"And Heaven Knows That Chanukah Is Happy, Ho Boy!" Musicals for the Holiday Season

As we move into the biggest holiday season of the year for Americans, it seems appropriate to list musicals that intersect with the holidays in some way. Of course, Christmas is by far the most commonly mentioned holiday (despite the near-monolithic Jewish composition of Broadway creative people), but Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and New Year's Eve have all worked their way into musicals, if only peripherally. (Haven't seen Kwanzaa yet, but I'm keeping my eyes and ears open.) This being Broadway, treatments of Christmas are entirely secular.

Musicals are alphabetical under holiday categories. If a show deals with more than one holiday, I determined which holiday is more important to the story and put the musical under that category.

Grateful acknowledgement must be made to the Varese Sarabande/Fynsworth Alley CD A Broadway Christmas for its 15 Christmas-related tracks from musicals both famous and obscure.


All That He Was (Music by Cindy O'Connor, lyrics and book by Lary Johnson)

Very obscure Los Angeles musical whose summary does not exist anywhere I can get to it. As far as I can tell from the lyrics, it's about the death of a gay man ("Man"--none of the characters have names) who had been rejected by his family for being gay. Various family members, including his religious Mother, his cynical Father, and his loving younger Brother (who did not understand why his older brother was cast from the family), reminisce about Man, while Man himself sings plaintively of wanting acceptance, and his Lover sings of memories and heartbreak. One of the memories is "Our First Christmas."

Annie (Music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, book by Thomas Meehan)

This show has it all for the family-friendly crowd: orphans, a dog, and action during the Christmas season, since the whole reason Daddy Warbucks gets Annie is that he wants to invite an orphan to his mansion for the holidays. In fact, the show's climax takes place on Christmas Day, which is a not-so-subtle symbol of Annie's new beginning in life.

Greenwillow (Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, book by Lesser Samuels and Frank Loesser)

Odd, mostly plotless, charming show, one of Loesser's two flops. The plot summary doesn't make clear why the show includes the song "Greenwillow Christmas (Carol)." Presumably a small slice of the show takes place during Christmas. Considering how overtly Christian the characters are--at one point the children want to baptize a calf to save it from going to Hell--it seems likely.

Here's Love (Music, book, and lyrics by Meredith Willson)

Based on the classic movie Miracle on 34thd Street, the musical was considerably inferior. Still, it's one of the few musicals entirely about the Christmas season.

I Love My Wife (Music by Cy Coleman, lyrics and book by Michael Stewart)

Source of the title of this list. Two square but adventurous couples experiment with group sex on Christmas Eve. Includes the great song "Lovers on Christmas Eve," which extolls the superiority of sex on Christmas Eve, though it's nice during every other holiday out there, including Chanukah, ho boy! The Band also dresses up as Santas.

Irma La Douce (Music by Marguerite Monnot, French lyrics and book by Alexandre Breffort, English lyrics and book by Julian More, David Heneker, and Monty Norman)

After all the farcical action of the show, prostitute Irma settles down with her man, and she gives birth on Christmas Day, memorialized in the song "Christmas Child."

Listen to the Wind (Music and lyrics by Vivian Ellis, original book by Angela Ainley Jeans, revised book by Peter Morris)

Sort of a cross betwee Nutcracker and Peter Pan, this British children's musical spans Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. A wealthy girl, Emma, must endure the company of her poor cousins Harriet and Jeremy. Emma has a music box given her by her father before he was lost at sea; it's painted with a picture of a "Gale bird, a bird kept by Wind People as pets." At night, pirates steal the box and the three children, who ask the box to save them. They're saved by a Gale bird, who takes them to an island where an evil mermaid-turned-witch dwells. After many adventures they return on Christmas morning, and all ends happily.

Ludlow Lad (Music by Gerald Jay Markoe, lyrics and book by Michael Colby)

Described as a "Comic Christmas Musical," this show is a prequel to the creative team's Charlotte Sweet. Here's a link to some info about it and the lyricist/book writer: http://www.michaelcolby.com/

Mame (Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee)

Contains perhaps the most famous Christmas-related song to come from a musical, "We Need a Little Christmas" (which also mentions Thanksgiving). Mame sings it weeks before Christmas to lift everyone's spirits, since she's broke, she can't hold a job, and they're in the middle of the Depression. They break out their presents. Mame gives Patrick his first pair of long pants, and her servants Agnes Gooch and Ito present her with a pile of her bills that they paid with their rainy day money. To top it all off, Beau Burnside, a man she'd accidentally stabbed while working on his fingernails, shows up, having fallen in love with Mame regardless of the damage, and he takes them out for dinner.

Meet Me In St. Louis (Music by Hugh Martin, lyrics by Ralph Blaine, book based on the Kensington Stories of Sally Benson and the MGM Motion Picture, Meet Me in St. Louis)

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is, of course, an immensely famous movie song; it was carried over into the poorly received stage version, so it counts.

Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical (Music, lyrics, and book by Dan Goggin)

It was inevitable that the Little Sisters of Hoboken would put on a Christmas pagent, which is afflicted by the usual disasters and silliness.

She Loves Me (Music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, book by Joe Masteroff)

Much of this charming show takes place during the Christmas season, as Maraczek's Parfumerie readies itself for the Christmas rush. Mr. Maraczek wants everyone to stay late to decorate the store. Georg and Amalia have been sniping at one another for a while; they both have other engagements, and Amalia leaves, and when Mr. Maraczek forbid Georg to leave as well, Georg quits in a huff (but later in the show is rehired). As you probably know, Georg and Amalia have been exchanging anonymous pen-pal letters and have fallen in love with their unknown correspondents; meanwhile, they're becoming friends after all. All is revealed on Christmas Eve in front of the tree. Also contains the hilarious classic "Twelve Days to Christmas," which lets you know that whether you're an efficient early shopper or a harried last-minute one, salespeople hate you either way.

The Streets of New York (Music by Richard B. Chodosh, lyrics and book by Barry Alan Grael)

This highly entertaining, little-known off-Broadway gem is a period piece set in the 1880s in New York, where a crooked banker flees with a ton of money and raises his bossy daughter Alida in style; meanwhile, Lucy, the daughter of a man killed by the banker, struggles for a living as a seamstress. They find themselves competing for the same young man, Mark. The second act opens in front of Delmonico's during the Christmas season, where a party is taking place: Mark is engaged to Alida, though not very willingly. The song "Christmas Carol" underscores the scene. There doesn't seem to be any more Christmas- or holiday-related action after that. (And yes, Lucy does get Mark in the end.)

Subways Are for Sleeping (Music by Jule Styne, lyrics and book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green)

To make money, some of the homeless people in the show play charity Santas during the holidays. Tom, the heart and soul of the homeless people, spurs them to greater effort with the song "Be a Santa," which is by all accounts this show's best moment, with its chorus line of high-kicking, Cossack-like Santas.


New Year's Eve

Cabaret (Music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, book by Joe Masteroff)

Cliff arrives in Berlin on December 31, 1929, and we transition to 1930 in the Kit Kat Klub. As I recall, he gets involved with Sally Bowles partially because he's very lonely on New Year's Eve.

Charlotte Sweet (Music by Gerald Jay Markoe, lyrics and book by Michael Colby)

Love and hijinks in the music hall during turn-of-the-century England, where the title heroine (born on Valentine's Day) has a lover born on Christmas Day who gives her a Christmas buche (log cake) to seal their love. Evil people from the music-hall troupe force Charlotte to sing in their company to pay her father's debts, and farce ensues as they do everything they can to keep her in the troupe, including addicting her to helium balloons so she can reach an elusive high note. The entire second act takes place on December 31, and the show ends as the New Year bells ring. Songs: "A Christmas Buche," "Farewell to Auld Lang Syne."

A Doll's Life (Music by Larry Grossman, lyrics and book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green)

Strange flop show that purports to examine what happens to the character Nora after the end of the Ibsen classic A Doll's House. One important scene is set on New Year's Eve in a cafe, where four men are getting drunk and lingering so they don't have to go home to their wives. (They sing "New Year's Eve.") Nora, working there as a scullery maid, sees that one man, Johan, has been tied up as part of the drunken revelry. Later, they talk; he's impressed with her. Later that night, she's fired for not screwing around with the cafe owner, and when she leaves she encounters Otto, a young musician whom she'd met earlier. They go to his rooming house, where they toast the new year and one another and soon become lovers. (She also remembers a very charming New Year's toast made by her former husband, Torvald, when he still loved her.) Of course, she encounters Johan later, and ultimately leaves Otto for him.

Side Show (Music by Henry Krieger, lyrics and book by Bill Russell)

Siamese twins and vaudeville performers Violet and Daisy Hilton have, um, interesting problems when it comes to relationships with men. Daisy's more interested in being a star, but Violet longs for love. Buddy, Violet's sometime paramour, proposes marriage during a New Year's Eve party, which causes no end of complications, especially since Buddy doesn't feel strong enough to deal with the situation. Song: "New Year's Day," which is when they're going to announce the engagement.



Leave It to Jane (Music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by P. G. Wodehouse, book by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse)

Ancient (1918) musical about Atwater College and their upcoming Thanksgiving Day football game with rival college Bingham. Jane, the daughter of Atwater's president, embarks on a mission to get the star halfback of Bingham to switch colleges.

Promises, Promises (Music by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David, book by Neil Simon)

I can't find a decent summary of this show--the booklet is useless--so I don't know which holiday is more important or how the songs fit, but it seems to cover both Thanksgiving ("Turkey Lurkey Time") and Christmas ("Christmas Day"). However, it may be that the turkey song actually refers to a Christmas party, or so implies the booklet for A Broadway Christmas.


Honorable Mention:

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Music and lyrics by Carol Hall, book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson): Includes the song "Hard Candy Christmas," but it's not Christmas; the song is an allegory that life is going to be difficult for these now unemployed women.

The Music Box Revue (Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin): "The Happy New Year Blues" was cut from Music Box Revue of 1924 and is included on A Broadway Christmas.

Songs for a New World (Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown): This revue contains the songs "Surabaya-Santa" and "Christmas Lullaby."

Starting Here, Starting Now (Music by David Shire, lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr.): This revue contains the song "I Don't Remember Christmas."

All non-lyric material copyright 2002-2003, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved

I invite additions and corrections to this list, or comments about the examples above. If I like your whole letter I'll ask if I can publish it on my letters page.

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