It's that time of the year when sleigh bells ring, chestnuts roast on the open fire, and a host of artists release albums celebrating the holiday season.
This year, we spotlight six holiday recordings from Broadway artists, a new take on a holiday classic, and the re-release of two singles, including one that spawned a worthy initiative.
Todd Almond: A Pony for Christmas
Todd Almond, who plays Elias Burke in the Conor McPherson-Bob Dylan Broadway musical Girl From the North Country, released his debut holiday album, A Pony for Christmas, November 19 on Ghostlight Records. The recording, which weaves personal, original compositions with new versions of traditional carols and reworkings of pop songs, started as an idea from Almond’s mother. “Every year for, oh, 20-something years, she has asked me to make a Christmas album for her,” says the Gossip Girl star. “And, every year I haven’t done it. Her 70th birthday landed in the middle of the pandemic, and I struggled with what to get her that showed just how much I love her. Then one day it hit me. A Christmas album, of course. And there was the inspiration I needed.” Song titles include "The Little Drummer Boy," "Ponies" (from Almond's musical Iowa), "O Holy Night," "Welcome Home" (listen to the tune from Almond's musical The Odyssey here), "Kind and Generous," "Maybe This Christmas," "Christmas Eve," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," and a medley of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love," "Cloudbusting," and "Running Up That Hill." For more information, click here. Almond will celebrate the new album with a concert December 13 at 7 PM at Chelsea Table + Stage, where he will be joined by Tony winner Betty Buckley (Cats, Sunset Boulevard).
Kristin Chenoweth: Happiness is… Christmas!
Tony and Emmy winner Kristin Chenoweth, who recently announced her engagement to musician Josh Bryant, released her new holiday album, Happiness is…Christmas!, in October on the Concord Records label. The album—the Wicked star's first holiday offering since A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas over a decade ago—begins with a pairing of "Christmas Time Is Here" and "Happiness," the latter the heartwarming finale from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the musical that brought Chenoweth her Tony Award for her comedic performance as Charlie Brown's sister Sally. The Broadway favorite also lends her rangy soprano to a jazz arrangement of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," the Carpenters' poignant "Merry Christmas, Darling," and Stephen Schwartz's Chanukah song "We Are Lights," while "Why Couldn't It Be Christmas Every Day?" tips its hat to the harmonies of the Beach Boys. "The inspiration for this album was light. Light at the end of the tunnel," says Chenoweth. "It's been a difficult time for all. With the cover and some of the songs, light is a big theme. I wanted to make a Christmas album for everybody. I wanted songs on the album that people can enjoy, that make them smile. It's a fun record, yet intimate—just like Christmas with my family." The stage and screen star will celebrate the holidays in Manhattan with a December 13 concert at the Metropolitan Opera. Kristin Chenoweth: Christmas at the Met will spotlight songs from the new holiday album and will feature musical direction by Mary-Mitchell Cambell and direction by Richard Jay-Alexander.
Darren Criss: A Very Darren Crissmas
Emmy winner Darren Criss (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), who will return to Broadway next year in a revival of David Mamet's American Buffalo, released his first holiday recording, A Very Darren Crissmas, October 8 on Decca Records. Produced by Ron Fair, singer-songwriter Criss interprets such holiday fare as "All Those Christmas Clichés," "River," and "The Christmas Song" and also joins forces with guest artists Adam Lambert on “(Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With the Bag,” Evan Rachel Wood on "Somewhere in My Memory," and Lainey Wilson on Criss' original tune, "Drunk Christmas." Purchase and listen to the album here. (A Deluxe Edition of the recording features two additional tracks: an original from Criss entitled “Christmas Dance” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with Lizzy McAlpine.) Criss celebrates the recording with a holiday concert tour that launches December 3 in Indianapolis, Indiana, at the Murat Theatre and also includes a December 20 performance at New York's Beacon Theatre. Additional stops for A Very Darren Christmas Tour include Ann Arbor, Michigan; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; Louisville, Kentucky; Akron, Ohio; Tysons, Virginia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Boston, Massachusetts; Rochester, Toronto, Ontario; and Hershey, Pennsylvania. For more information click here.
Darius de Haas: Let Me Carry You This Christmas
Darius de Haas, the actor and singer seen on Broadway in Kiss of the Spider Woman, Rent, Carousel, Marie Christine, The Gershwins’ Fascinating Rhythm, and Shuffle Along, pays homage to family and holiday traditions with the re-release of the holiday single “Let Me Carry You This Christmas,” written and composed by Emmy nominees Thomas Mizer and Curtis Moore. The song (and video), which pays tribute to people carrying on holiday traditions for loved ones as family dynamics shift, also spawned the Let Me Carry You Initiative, where listeners can donate to The Actors Fund, which supports those in the performing arts community and their loved ones. The song is based on the Obie winner's experiences taking care of his parents and uncle. Says de Haas, “The holidays can be a great, joyous time for many, but it is also the time when many may struggle with loss, loneliness, lack of support, and more. This song was created to persevere the spirit of the holidays even under the most difficult of circumstances. It honors caregiving heroes, the elderly, those that are ill, and the people we lost during this global pandemic. With all these continuing challenges, ‘Let Me Carry You This Christmas’ shines a light on all the emotions of the holiday season while affirming the resilience of our love for one another.”
Lisa Howard: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Lisa Howard, whose Broadway credits include Escape to Margaritaville, It Shoulda Been You, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, released her debut holiday album The Most Wonderful Time of the Year November 20. The recording features seasonal favorites both old and new, including Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You," Mame's "We Need a Little Christmas," George Michael's "Last Christmas," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and more. Howard is joined by her former Spelling Bee co-star Derrick Baskin on three tracks—"Sleigh Ride," "Christmas Wrapping," and "Under the Mistletoe"—and Giacomo La Vita on acoustic guitar. Howard will celebrate the new album with a live performance at Feinstein's/54 Below December 12. She will be backed by a quartet of musicians, led by the record's co-producer, Michael Shaieb, who also penned the arrangements. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is available on iTunes and Apple Music. (Listen to Howard and Baskin duet on Leroy Anderson and Mitchell Parish's "Sleigh Ride" from the recording produced by Shaieb and Brent Lord for FatLab Music.)
Jawan M. Jackson: White Christmas
Another holiday re-release comes from Jawan M. Jackson, who is currently back on Broadway in the role he created, Melvin Franklin in the Tony-nominated Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations at the Imperial Theatre. Jackson wraps his rich voice around the Irving Berlin classic “White Christmas,” which also features Isaiah Templeton. Berlin (Annie Get Your Gun, Call Me Madam) penned the song for the musical film Holiday Inn, which was released in 1942. The tune, originally sung by Bing Crosby, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 15th Academy Awards. Jackson's single was arranged by the Broadway actor himself and Aaron Marcellus and produced by Pierre “Peeksi” Sanders. Musicians included Walt Williams, Marcellus, and Davaughn “Day Day” Denegall. Jackson, who has also been seen on Broadway in Motown the Musical, said the 2020 recording was "birthed from the creativity of being home in a pandemic and me stepping out as a performer."
Morgan James: A Very Magnetic Christmas
Morgan James, seen on Broadway in The Addams Family, Godspell, and Motown, released A Very Magnetic Christmas—recorded live to analog tape at Memphis Magnetic Recording in Tennessee—November 5. The 10-track album combines James’ soulful take on classics like “O Holy Night” and “White Christmas” with reimagined favorites like Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa” and Otis Redding and Lou Rawls’ “Merry Christmas Baby” as well as three originals, co-written by James and her husband-collaborator-arranger Doug Wamble. James is currently taking A Very Magnetic Christmas on the road with tour dates through December 22 in Atlanta, Georgia. On New Year’s Eve, she will join the Asheville Symphony and vocalist Erica Gabriel for New Year’s Eve Queens of Soul to perform works by Adele, Whitney Houston, Marvin Gaye, and more. For the complete touring itinerary, click here.
Zachary James: Wonder and Joy
Grammy-nominated opera star Zachary James—who has also appeared on Broadway in the 2008 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, the musical stage adaptation of The Addams Family, and the London transfer of Coram Boy—will release his 20-track celebration of the holiday season December 3. Entitled Wonder and Joy, the new recording features James along with musical collaborators Holly Flack, Bonnie Montgomery, Jason Nichols, Megan Nielson, and Frederick Poholek. Listeners can expect classic holiday carols, such as “O Holy Night," "12 Days of Christmas," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Joy to the World," “Silent Night,” “O Come All Ye Faithful, and “Jingle Bells,” along with modern Christmas hits “You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch,” “Blue Christmas,” and “Christmas Time Is Here” as well as “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” The holiday recording will be available for streaming across platforms worldwide, and a limited number of signed CDs are available by visiting ZachJames.com.
Billy Porter: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award winner Billy Porter (Kinky Boots, Pose, Shuffle Along…) has recorded a single of Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," originally performed by Judy Garland in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis. Listen to the stage and screen star's powerful take on the holiday classic below.