10 Classic (and Contemporary) Holiday Plays and Musicals

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Photo Source: Jim Cox

As the turkey digests and cold weather moves in, actors, directors, and designers across the country are launching a slew of holiday-themed plays and musicals. Seeing these family-friendly, feel-good shows is a beloved tradition for many communities, and holiday productions find a welcome home on many an actor’s résumé. Here are some festive titles you’re sure to recognize, along with a few fresh winter picks!

“A Christmas Carol”
Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic may be the mother lode of all Christmas shows, in part because it’s so open to re-imagination. With nearly as many adaptations as productions, the heartfelt story of a lonely rich man finding redemption via ghostly messenger is presented annually at schools, community theaters, and esteemed regional houses across the country. Less traditional versions include “A Klingon Christmas Carol” (it’s exactly what it sounds like!) at Commedia Beauregard in Chicago, and “A Christmas Carol, Oy Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa” performed by the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater at LaMaMa in New York.

“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical”
This beloved children’s book was first brought to life by Minneapolis’ Children’s Theatre Company in 1994 (where it’s still playing), and the musical has been delighting audiences across the country ever since. With a book and lyrics by Timothy Mason and an original score by Mel Marvin (including tunes like “I Hate Christmas Eve” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”), the fun family musical opened on Broadway in 2006 and quickly became a holiday staple for many theaters. Broadway’s Whoville can be caught touring the country for the rest of the 2014 holiday season!

“Miracle on 34th Street”
This 1947 Christmas film (proving there is a Santa Claus) has been adapted many times over for stage and screen. “Miracle on 34th Street: A Radio Play” was premiered by NBC’s Lux Radio Theater (also in 1947) and is now performed live at theaters across the country, complete with old-school radio touches and actor-provided sound effects! Meredith Wilson’s “Here’s Love” (aka “Miracle on 34th Street: the Musical”) has been delighting audiences since its 1963 Broadway premiere, and features popular numbers like “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and “Pinecones and Hollyberries.”

“The Chanukkah Guest”
Eric A. Kimmel’s classic holiday story about an old woman, latkes, and a friendly bear was adapted for the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company by playwright Jenna Zark, where it will delight audiences with it’s heartwarming holiday message starting on Dec. 4. Past holiday offerings from MJTC include “The Magic Dreidels” (also by Zark), “Hanukkah Lights in the Big Sky” (Buffy Sedlacheck), and “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” (Shari Aronson).

“A Tuna Christmas”
This 1989 comedy about Tuna, Texas is part of the four-part touring series by Jason Williams, Joes Sears, and Ed Howard that includes “Greater Tuna,” “Red White and Tuna,” and “Tuna Does Vegas.” The story centers on a small town’s madcap Christmas decorating contest, with Williams and Sears playing almost a dozen whacky characters each. Though the original Tuna team is taking the year off from touring, “A Tuna Christmas” can be caught at several regional theaters this winter including Portland’s Newark Theatre (through Dec. 21) and Tyler Civic Theatre in Tyler, Texas (through Dec. 14th).

“It’s A Wonderful Life”
Another Christmas classic pulled from a popular 1940s film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is performed as an energetic radio play and a heartwarming musical. George Bailey comes onstage in “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” adapted by Joe Landry and featuring six actors as 25 characters. Musical versions include Harnick and Raposo’s “A Wonderful Life” and “It’s A Wonderful Life: The Musical” by Keith Ferguson and Bruce Greer.

“The SantaLand Diaries”
Joe Mantello adapted this hilarious David Sedaris essay about working as a Macy’s Christmas elf, premiering “The SantaLand Diaries” at the Atlantic Theater Company in 1996. The one-man, one-act comedy is a seasonal favorite at high schools, colleges, and regional theaters across the country, including Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Horizon Theatre Company, and the Alley Theatre.

“Anyone Can Dreidel”
This holiday offering from the Improvised Sondheim Project is billed as an “improvised musical inspired by your awkward holiday memories.” The hilarious Chicago troupe creates a new musical each night based on audience suggestion, and in the style of—you guessed it—Mr. Sondheim himself. Playing now through Dec. 20, “Anyone Can Dreidel” is sure to become a memorable and hysterical holiday treat.

“Holiday Inn”
Goodspeed Opera House is presenting the world premiere of this Irving Berlin musical about a Connecticut farmhouse that transforms into a festive home for the holidays, based on the 1942 film starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby. “Holiday Inn” takes audiences through Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter and the Fourth of July with numbers like “Easter Parade” and “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.” The upbeat family musical is playing now through Dec. 28, and is sure to become a holiday classic for years to come.

“Dee Snider’s Rock and Roll Christmas Tale”
This holiday rock musical by (and starring!) Twisted Sister’s legendary Dee Snider is making its world premiere at Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse, now through Jan. 4. The hilarious story centers on a heavy metal band that is forced (through a pact with the devil) to trade in head-banging anthems for heartwarming Christmas carols. Snyder narrates the silly and sweet story, and numbers juxtapose classic holiday tunes with Twisted Sister hits like “I Wanna Rock” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

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