* As temperatures drop and the holidays approach, it's tempting to stay indoors and enjoy nights at home in front of the fire (or at least in front of the TV) all through the winter months. Some of the best holiday memories, though, are made on nights when, despite the cold, a wintertime arts adventure is in order. Personally, I try to set aside time to take in at least one or two holiday shows every year, just to make sure I mark the season with family and friends and bask in the glow of a little cheer. I still remember some of the all-time best nights I've spent at the theatre around the holidays, particularly a night out with a good friend at Donny and Marie - A Broadway Christmas in 2010 and, in 2008, seeing Liza Minnelli singing her mother's signature "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" in Liza's at the Palace before sending our audience out in time for the first snowfall of the year.
Holiday entertainment can also be a great gift for those who already have everything and makes for a great outing with family and friends looking for a reason to leave the house on a winter's eve. There are a wide variety of offerings to choose from this holiday season in New York City, ranging from dance and theatre spectacles to intimate cabaret performances, to shows specifically suited to children, all of which promise to add a little spice to the end of 2014.
Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Dr. Seuss' quirky holiday tale "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is by now a holiday classic. Seuss' book was first published in 1957 before being adapted an animated TV special directed by Chuck Jones in 1966. The TV special exposed a whole new audience to Seuss' original story and introduced the song "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch," which has gone on to be a popular Christmas song on the radio. The musical version of the special, which played on Broadway during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons with Patrick Page in the title role, returns to New York this year, this time in a production at the Theater at Madison Square Garden with Tony winner Shuler Hensley as the Grinch. Critics in past years have applauded the show's ability to transcend the usual cookie-cutter Christmas fare, thanks in large part to the signature wit of Dr. Seuss, whose words make up a good portion of the lyrics and whose arch sensibility informs the material (and the unique set design).
At the Theater at Madison Square Garden, Dec. 5-28. Tickets from $40-$160. Tickets/Info.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Now in its 81st season, Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular is a New York institution. With a cast of more than 100 performers, the revue features a number of particularly memorable moments: the famed chorus line of the Rockettes (Radio City's house dance troupe), a line of dancing wooden soldiers, on-stage ice skating, Santa's sleigh ride and a living nativity among them. Radio City's art deco architecture is a marvel in and of itself, but the spectacular held every year provides more than just a good reason to gawk at the theatre's ornate decorations. The family-friendly show, which runs about 90 minutes, is a great way to introduce young audience members to theatre. The Rockettes, who are billed directly under the title, are, by contrast, the reason most adults will want to catch the show; their perfectly-matched costumes and precision dancing are thoroughly impressive.
At Radio City Music Hall, Nov. 7-Dec. 21. Tickets from $45-$120. Tickets/Info.
A Christmas Memory
Based on a story by Truman Capote, the Irish Repertory's production of A Christmas Memory inspires a seasonal theatrical trip down memory lane. Set in 1933 Alabama, this new musical by Larry Grossman, Carol Hall and Duane Poole, hearkens back to a sweeter, more innocent time in the U.S. South. The musical tells the story of Buddy, whose three aunts have raised him and are making a big to-do about their last Christmas together before Buddy ventures forth from home. The musical stars Tony winner Alice Ripley as Sook, who helps Buddy gather ingredients for the family's signature fruitcakes, one of which may actually make its way as far as the White House if all goes as planned. Though the musical's plot is more homespun than gut-wrenching, it's aiming more for warmth and subtlety than any grand gesture.
At DR2 Theater, Nov. 25-Jan. 4, 2015. Tickets are $70. Tickets/Info.
For ballet fans, two versions of The Nutcracker are here for the holidays. Presented by American Ballet Theater is a production at Brooklyn Academy of Music with choreography by modern master Alexei Ratmansky, an ABT artist in residence. Ratmansky's approach to the ballet takes a dreamlike approach to the classic story of Clara and her toy Nutcracker and utilizes older and younger versions of the lead characters to give the ballet a new perspective. At New York City Ballet, a more traditional version, choreographed by the late George Balanchine, will also be presented. Originally choreographed in 1955 with Balanchine taking on the role of Clara's godfather, Drosselmeyer, this perennial favorite has been produced by New York City Ballet each year since. These two versions of Tchaikovsky's holiday ballet offer very different performances, so the choice ultimately comes down to one's preference for Balanchine's neoclassical approach to ballet or Ratmansky's more modern sensibility.
American Ballet Theater's The Nutcracker plays at BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House, Dec. 12-21. Tickets from $20-$195. Tickets/Info.
New York City Ballet's George Balanchine's The Nutcracker plays at the David H. Koch Theatre, Nov. 28, 2014-Jan. 3. Tickets from $35-$260. Tickets/Info.
Hansel and Gretel at the Met
The Metropolitan Opera's English-language holiday opera is another New York tradition. This year, English singer-composer Engelbert Humperdinck's opera adaptation of Hansel and Gretel takes center stage in an imaginatively loopy production directed by Richard Jones (who recently directed New York City Opera's Anna Nicole at BAM). Though the opera is performed in English, it features supertitles nevertheless; its relatively succinct running time of two hours and ten minutes (short for an opera) makes it a good introduction to opera for those of any age who are getting acquainted with the form. Humperdinck's opera, though it borrows elements from the German tradition in keeping with the piece's Brothers Grimm source material, aims to be a more accessible work in the vein of the English-language version of The Magic Flute that has run at the Met in recent years.
Hansel and Gretel plays at the Metropolitan Opera House, Dec. 18–Jan. 8. Tickets from $25-$175. Tickets/Info.
For music lovers, there are ample opportunities for festive concerts as well. Handel's famous oratorio Messiah (featuring the "Hallelujah" chorus) will be presented by the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall for five performances only. For a sardonic counterpoint, the Collegiate Chorale is presenting Not The Messiah (He's A Very Naughty Boy), a comic oratorio by Monty Python's Eric Idle and composer John Du Prez, who also co-wrote the Tony Award-winning musical Spamalot. This quirky twist on the oratorio format will feature songs with titles like "Hail to the Shoe" and "We Love Sheep" and a cast that includes Idle as well as Broadway veterans Victoria Clark and Marc Kudisch among others.
Also at Carnegie Hall, Broadway favorites and former The Light in the Piazza and South Pacific castmates Kelli O'Hara and Matthew Morrison (also of "Glee" fame) will be presenting a program of holiday standards and contemporary seasonal songs entitled Home for the Holidays, accompanied by the New York Pops and Essential Voices USA. The New York Philharmonic will be hosting Whoopi Goldberg and Mo Rocca on successive nights as guest narrators for a program of holiday favorites as well. Goldberg and Rocca will be reading "The Night Before Christmas," and the evening will conclude with a rousing sing-along segment.
The Apollo Theatre is also hosting several holiday-themed events uptown, including a Kwanzaa celebration Dec. 27 and a Duke Ellington-themed holiday jazz show entitled Ellington at Christmas: Nutcracker Suite starring Norm Lewis.
Fans of more contemporary music can also see Mariah Carey in a new holiday-themed concert, All I Want For Christmas Is You at the Beacon Theatre, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the release of her "Merry Christmas" album. Messiah plays at Avery Fisher Hall, December 16-20, 2014. Tickets from $30-$144. Tickets/Info.
Not The Messiah (He's A Very Naughty Boy) plays at Carnegie Hall, Dec. 15-16, 2014. Tickets from $30-$145. Tickets/Info.
Kelli and Matthew: Home for the Holidays plays at Carnegie Hall, Dec. 19, 2014. Tickets from $34-$120. Tickets/Info.
Holidays with the Philharmonic plays at Avery Fisher Hall, Dec. 19 (with Whoopi Goldberg) and 20 (with Mo Rocca), 2014. Tickets from $35-$75. Tickets/Info.
Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Night plays at the Apollo Theatre, Dec. 27, 2014. Tickets from $20-$34. Tickets/Info.
Ellington at Christmas: Nutcracker Suite plays at the Apollo Theatre, Dec. 13-14, 2014. Tickets from $35-$65. Tickets/Info.
Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You plays at the Beacon Theatre, Dec. 15-21, 2014. Tickets from $59.50-$25. Tickets/Info.
The city's cabaret rooms will also be host to a wide variety of artists with holiday-themed shows for adults this season. 54 Below will feature A Very Broadway Holiday, starring a host of Broadway favorites, as well as New Year's Eve performances by Charles Busch at 7 PM and Laura Benanti at 11 PM. Joe's Pub's line-up features Our Lady J's Dolly Parton-themed The Gospel of Dolly: A Hard Candy Christmas and Justin Vivian Bond's irreverent Star of Light! An Evening of Bi-Polar Witchy Wonder. For fans of camp and drag, several "RuPaul's Drag Race" performers, including Jinkx Monsoon, Courtney Act and Alaska, will have holiday shows at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, as will famed John Waters actress Mink Stole, whose OMG! It's Christmas features mainly unconventional Christmas tunes.
A full calendar of 54 Below events can be found here. A full calendar of Joe's Pub events can be found here. A full calendar of Laurie Beechman Theatre events can be found here.
Though many of the shows featured thus far are geared toward families, there are several upcoming holiday shows designed specifically for the younger set, including stalwart touring children's troupe Theatreworks USA's affordably-priced A Christmas Carol, which will play the Kaye Theatre for a single performance Dec. 20, and Vital Theatre's Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas, a new musical about how to cope with the unexpected during the holidays by Cara Lustik, Randy Klein, and Matthew Hardy based on the children's book by Jane O'Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser.
Theatreworks USA's A Christmas Carol plays at the Kaye Theatre, Dec. 20. Tickets from $20-$30. Tickets/Info. Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas plays at the Vital Theatre, Nov. 22-Jan. 4. Tickets from $39.50-$49.50. Tickets/Info.
Richard Patterson is a critic and editor for Exeunt Magazine as well as a playwright and lyricist-in-training. Visit him at therichardpatterson.com and follow @broadwaygayby on Twitter.