Christmas cheer is a cut-throat business, something I learned from the composer of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, Johnny Marks, who pointed out to me that the success of his little ditty and others such as Jingle Bells filled the airwaves every December, making it nearly impossible to get airtime for new Christmas songs, including his own.
Does this work the same for Christmas theater?
If it does, it doesn’t seem to stop annual additions to a crowded tradition that includes The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, the 800-pound reindeer, now celebrating its 80th year with a 90-minute show with more than 140 performers, including of course the Rockettes.
Taking baby steps towards such perennial status is a show that is more clearly actual theater: A Christmas Story. I reviewed the musical positively when it debuted in 2012 at Lunt-Fontanne Theater on Broadway (“A Christmas Story: Review: More Dogs Than Annie, More Elves Than Elf; A Minimum of Treacle.” It is now in New York for the third December, at The Theater of Madison Square Garden.
Now, there’s nothing stopping anybody from seeing a New York stage show in December that has nothing to do with Christmas — and indeed many do, despite an increase in ticket prices during the holiday season. But shows explicitly connected to Christmas — or at least with “Christmas” in the title — continue to proliferate, for reasons I don’t quite grasp.
Here’s a list of those in 2013, which I’ll be adding to in the days (and maybe weeks) ahead:
‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ UP THE WAZOO
This year there are (at least) FOUR professional stage productions in New York of Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic story, A Christmas Carol, enough to turn any Scrooge into a serial killer.
A Christmas Carol at St. Clement’s has a new adaptation by Patrick Barlow, who previously worked his magic on Hitchcock with The 39 Steps, but while there is sarcasm in Barlow’s version, there is little parody.
Summoners Ensemble Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol is a solo show by John Kevin Jones performed at the landmark Merchant’s House Museum, (29 East 4th Street, Manhattan),
Brooklyn’s Smith Street Stage presents its “Christmas Carol” as a 1940s radio show.
Blessed Unrest is an adaptation of Dickens’ familiar tale directed and choreographed by Jessica Burr, Here is how Matt Opatrny, who wrote the adaptation, describes it: 1843, Charles Dickens planned to publish a political pamphlet entitled “An Appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child,” but instead wrote AChristmas Carol. This adaptation returns to the story’s original intent as an examination of an unjust socioeconomic system that benefits a few at the top while the masses struggle to meet their basic needs.
CHRISTMAS THEATER=CHRISTMAS SONGS
In Shea: Prince of Christmas, singer Shea Arender takes audiences on a “Christmas musical journey,” singing old yuletide favorites and more recent ones that have made the cut, and explaining their history.
‘ALTERNATIVE’ HOLIDAY SHOWS
The greatest number of Christmas shows may be the ones that make fun of the idea of Christmas shows, one way or another. Several have become perennials themselves, such as Naked Holidays, at The Cutting Room (44 East 32 Street at Park Avenue), now through December 30. This is the 7th annual production of this show. This year’s highlights include:
Christmas Village of the Damned: One infected elf spreads a zombie plague through Santa’s workshop, threatening all the beloved characters of Christmas Village)
A Very Paula Deen Hannukah: As part of her sensitivity training, Ms. Deen bakes latkas under the guidance of Rabbi Hirschfeld
Total Eclipse of the Heart: While Santa is
away delivering toys, a lonely and frustrated Mrs. Claus indulges her
Laurie Beechman Theater (at 407 West 42nd) is offering an entire schedule of wacked-out Christmas shows in December. Roughly chronologically:
Distorted Krissmess (featuring the ladies of the drag hit Distorted Diznee and the Port Authority Cockettes, a downscale version of Rockettes);
Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales: Unwrapped (creators of Off-Broadway’s the Vaudevillians offer original songs, covers and comedy);
A Very Cougar Christmas with Pandora Boxx and Sherry Vine (includes parodies of carols and saucy Santa jokes);
Happy Birthday Jesus: The Alaska Christmas Show (Alaska as in the name of drag performer, not the state)
Jackie Beat: O Holy Hell — her 15th annual holiday show
It’s safe to say these shows are probably not ideal for children, nowhere near as wholesome as, say, Kinky Boots.
Know of a show that fits? Let me know in the comments below.