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Broadway for Christmas

"A Christmas Story: The Musical," based on the 1983 film, is a natural holiday choice.

No, Virginia, you can’t get tickets to The Book of Mormon on Broadway for Christmas week.

A constant question at this time of year is “We’re going to New York City over the holidays. What should I see on Broadway?”

I do find the question impossible to answer, not knowing everyone’s personal taste. Cats ran nearly forever, after all, without me recommending it even once.

Depending upon what Christmas means to your family, the highly acclaimed revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? directed by Buffalo’s Pam MacKinnon might be your best bet. (I’m joking about the holiday angle, of course, though I do recommend the production.) Generally, when people specify “Broadway show for the holidays,” they mean happy musicals, so I’ll give a run down on those.

At this point, you can certainly grab tickets to Phantom of the Opera or Chicago, good old reliable shows from yesteryear.

Rob McClure is brilliant in "Chaplin: The Musical," which was loved by audiences and disliked by many critics. The show has announced its closing, so get tickets now.
"Newsies" is a heartwarming story that is perfect for the season.

But for those who want something a little more current, I can give you the general lay of the land. There are a number of current musicals specifically geared towards Christmas.

A Christmas Story the Musical, based on the beloved 1983 film about one boy and his obsession with the BB gun in a store window, has scored higher marks than the more overtly glitzy fair that gets hauled out at this time of year. It should be a good bet.

Elf, based on the 2003 movie, will be on Broadway through the New Year, and comes less warmly recommended—but so often with these decisions, family bonding is more the point than the show itself.

If fantasies of an English panto-type Christmas are guiding your choice, I regret to tell those who have been asking that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella does not begin performances until late January, but tickets in the Christmas stocking will certainly provide weeks of delightful anticipation. (It’s not a panto actually, but all retellings of Cinderella necessarily require some high camp, and this one’s got Harriet Harris as the stepmother, Victoria Clark as the fairy godmother, and Ann Harada from Avenue Q as one of the step-sisters.)

Anglophiles might be better advised to see the Dickensian Mystery of Edwin Drood, which is not exactly a Christmas musical, but is set at Christmas, and features the great Grand Dame of Broadway, Chita Rivera as the Princess Puffer. The audience gets to decide the outcome of Dickens’s unfinished novel, and this would be a fun choice. The limited engagement has been extended through March.

Also set at Christmas, but not a Christmas story, is Annie. Yes, she’s back again with a “New Deal for Christmas.”

Don’t forget, however, for the little girl in your family, that Wicked is still packing houses at the Gershwin Theatre and will be a popular choice.

Ticket availability has eased up for some older shows like The Lion King, Mary Poppins, and Peter and the Star Catcher—all guaranteed to be popular with younger audience members.

Some newer titles are catch as catch can for availability. Spider Man: Turn off the Dark is certainly eye-popping. I would be more inclined, however, to recommend Newsies, which is the heartwarming and adorable tale of how a group of boys who sell newspapers on the streets of 19th-century New York score a thrilling victory over a titan of publishing.

I would recommend Chaplin the Musical, which has posted its closing. It was maligned by critics, but loved by audiences. Rob McClure gives and enchanting performance as Charlie Chaplin and the show has a Buffalo connection, having been produced and pampered by Rich Entertainment Group.

And if you missed Broadway’s Jeffry Denman and Marc Kudisch at MusicalFare, doing their intimate celebration of Christmas and Hanukah, they will be off-Broadway at the York Theatre for two weeks, beginning December 18. (Call 212-935-5820 for tickets.)

For the seriously minded, also off-Broadway, you can see A Civil War Christmas, a drama with period Christmas music by Paula Vogel, author of How I Learned to Drive and The Baltimore Waltz. I have not seen it yet, but Vogel is sensational and word of mouth is glowing.

Like Buffalo, the theaters of Manhattan serve of their share of “Let’s Kill Grandma for Christmas,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” type fare, but I’ll allow folks who are so inclined to find that on their own.

Finally, don’t forget the possibility of seeing the Rockettes and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. Yes, I know it’s not Broadway. But it is Manhattan and Christmas, and unforgettable, right down to a living nativity that includes real live camels. They do four and five performances a day, so you should be able to fit it in around your shopping schedule and catch a real Broadway show!