Though hibernation is often the most tempting option on blustery winter nights, it's worth venturing forth to mark the season by taking in some of the festive theatre, dance and music options during a time when togetherness is key. Ranging from intimate cabaret rooms like Feinstein's/54 Below to the 6,000-plus-seat Radio City Music Hall, there's a ticket with your name on it.
Like Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and A Christmas Story, both of which previously played Broadway, Elf makes a return to New York at the Theater at Madison Square Garden this holiday season. Based on the 2003 Will Ferrell-Zooey Deschanel movie, Elf previously played the Al Hirschfeld Theatre during the 2010-2011 and 2012-2013 seasons and was the inspiration for last year's stop-motion "Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas" on NBC, which starred Jim Parsons. With a buoyant score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer) and a book by Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Rocky), Elf tells the story of Buddy, a young orphan boy accidentally transported to the North Pole by Santa Claus, where he takes his place among the elves despite being a human. Years later, he travels back to New York City to find his birth father on a journey that teaches him the real meaning of Christmas.
At the Theater at Madison Square Garden, December 9-27, 2015. Tickets from $39 to $160.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Currently in its eighty-second season, Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular is one of those New York staples that, arguably, you have to see at least once in your life. The production features the famous Rockettes and their tightly-coordinated kick line, but they make up just a fraction of the more than 100 performers on stage during the course of the evening's proceedings. There's also ice skating, "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," an impressively large-scale living nativity, and an on-stage tour of New York, including a festive rendering of Times Square's lights and billboards. The venue itself, Radio City Music Hall, is a wonder to behold as well, and the show provides a worthy excuse to revisit its art deco interior and marvel at its expansive stage, designed by architect Peter Clark to resemble a setting sun.
At Radio City Music Hall, now through January 3, 2016. Tickets from $45 to $120.
In the tradition of off-Broadway hit Forever Plaid, Stuart Ross's musical revue Plaid Tidings follows the Plaids, an ill-fated 1950s guy-group who returns from the afterlife to present holiday favorites with a twist. The York Theatre's presentation marks the New York premiere of the show, which previously played at the Pasadena Playhouse and at Halifax's Neptune Theatre. Among the show's highlights are a three-minute version of "The Ed Sullivan Show" and a Plaid Caribbean Christmas, as well as "Plaid-erized" versions of "Jingle Bells" and "The Dreidel Song."
At the York Theatre Company at Saint Peter's, December 8-27, 2015. Tickets are $67.50.
A Child's Christmas in Wales
The Irish Repertory Theatre, which last year presented a stage adaptation of Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory starring Alice Ripley, have turned their gaze toward another holiday show this year, Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales, boasts a cast led by two-time Tony Award winner John Cullum in a production directed by the company's co-founder Charlotte Moore, who also adapted the piece for the stage. The play is a stage version of Thomas's holiday recollections of simpler times, which was originally conceived as a piece written for radio and recorded by Thomas himself in 1952. The Irish Rep's version uses both traditional and contemporary holiday music to portray the joys of the season as seen through the eyes of a child.
At the DR2 Theatre, November 24, 2015-January 3, 2016. Tickets are $70 (with $25 tickets available for students).
The First Noel
The Classical Theatre of Harlem will premiere a new holiday show at the Apollo Theatre this year. The First Noel, an original musical, follows three generations of a Harlem family as they cope with the tragic loss of a loved one and learn to heal with the help of the local community. Written by Jason Michael Webb (music director of the current revival of The Color Purple) and Lelund Durond Thompson, the musical bridges a wide swath of styles, including disco, jazz, gospel, and rock, re-imagining beloved Christmas carols as new songs in the context of the show's original story.
At the Apollo Theater, December 11-31, 2015. Tickets $25-$125.
Since its premiere in 1954 at New York City Center, choreographic great George Balanchine's take on Tschaikovsky's holiday The Nutcracker has never missed a season in New York City, introducing generations of young people to the wonders of dance. Balanchine's neoclassical approach represents a straightforward interpretation of a timeless story. The work is the centerpiece of New York City Ballet's winter activity. The company, who presents Balanchine's The Nutcracker each year, incorporates not only all 90 company dancers, but also 62 musicians and two casts of 50 student dancers from the School of American Ballet (not to mention 32 stage hands in the wings). To say New York City Ballet's Nutcracker is a massive undertaking is a gross understatement – and the effort and talent is reflected in the company's elaborately designed production.
At the David H. Koch Theatre, November 27, 2015-January 3, 2016. Tickets from $39-$265.
The Hard Nut
For a "nuttier," more modern take on Tschaikovsky's The Nutcracker, turn instead to Mark Morris Dance Group's The Hard Nut, which plays BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House. Transporting the classic story from the 1890s (as it was in E.T.A. Hoffman's story, which inspired the original ballet) to the 1970s, this colorful production is designed by Adrianne Lobel (sets) and the late costume designer Martin Pakledinaz. The Hard Nut (described as "retro-modern") draws influence from the artwork of cartoonist Charles Burns, for a playful reinvention of the standard.
At the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, December 12-20, 2015. Tickets from $25-$115.
Those who prefer live music have choices this season, starting with Light: A Holiday Celebration presented by the New York City Gay Men's Chorus at Town Hall for two performances on Dec. 13. The program features new commissions alongside holiday music by Bobby McFerrin, James Taylor, and others, as well as special guest Justin Vivian Bond, who will sing with the chorus' 250-plus members.
New York City Gay Men's Chorus's Light: A Holiday Celebration plays at the Town Hall, December 13, 2015 at 3 PM and 7 PM. Tickets from $45-$75.
For classicists, the world-renowned New York Philharmonic's take on Handel's Messiah plays at David Geffen Hall from Dec. 15-19, offering a chance to bask in the glorious sounds of George Frideric Handel's powerful oratorio, famed for the "Hallelujah" chorus.
Handel's Messiah plays David Geffen Hall, December 15-19, 2015. Tickets from $29-$134.
The Philharmonic offers a lighter evening on Dec. 18 and 19 with "Oh, What Fun! A Philharmonic Holiday," also at David Geffen Hall. Featuring baritone Eric Owens and the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, you won't want to miss Owens' rendition of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."
Oh! What Fun! A Philharmonic Holiday plays at David Geffen Hall, December 18-19, 2015. Tickets from $35-$75.
The New York City Pops are joined by Broadway favorites Brian d'Arcy James and Stephanie J. Block at Carnegie Hall in their own program of holiday favorites, titled "It's Christmas Time in the City," on Dec. 18, with support from choral group Essential Voices USA.
It's Christmas Time in the City plays at Carnegie Hall, December 18, 2015. Tickets from $20-$122.
Pop music fans have reason to revel at the return of diva Mariah Carey to the Beacon Theatre from Dec. 8-18 for her second annual All I Want For Christmas Is You concert series, including songs from Carey's two holiday albums, 1994's Merry Christmas and 2010's Merry Christmas II You. Carey's perennial return may well be a New York City mainstay.
Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You plays at the Beacon Theatre, December 8-18, 2015. Tickets from $59.50-$255.
On Dec. 27, the Apollo Theatre presents Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Night featuring New York-based dance company Abdel Salaam's Forces of Nature Dance Theatre.
Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Night plays at the Apollo Theatre, December 27, 2015. Tickets from $14-$35.
New York's more intimate cabaret rooms will play host to their own impressive of holiday offerings, ranging from crooners (Michael Feinstein) to drag divas (Jinkx Monsoon) to zany comediennes (Christine Pedi).
At the newly-renamed Feinstein's/54 Below, all-male string quartet Well-Strung will be bowing beloved holiday songs in their show, A Well-Strung Christmas. Christine Pedi brings her "Twelve Divas of Christmas" to the venue in Snow Bizness, Miss Vodka Stinger brings the heat with another holiday special, and composer Joe Iconis's Christmas Spectacular returns for its eighth annual incarnation. Feinstein, himself, and Norm Lewis join forces in a series of shows, continuing through New Year's Eve, when Marin Mazzie and Annaleigh Ashford will usher in 2016.
A full calendar of Feinstein's/54 Below events can be found at 54Below.com.
At the Laurie Beechman Theatre on 42nd Street, "RuPaul's Drag Race Queens" Jinkx Monsoon, Alaska, and Ginger Minj (among others) lead festive shows, like Minj's colorfully-titled Christma-Hannu-Kwanzaa-Ka Spectacular and Alaska's Your Christmas Is Terrible, while drag legend Jackie Beat and actor-comedian Alec Mapa head up their own holiday-themed evenings.
A full calendar of Laurie Beechman Theatre events can be found at WestBankCafe.com.
Downtown at Joe's Pub, Justin Vivian Bond returns for another unconventional holiday show, this time entitled Angels We Have Heard When High.
A full calendar of Joe's Pub events can be found at PublicTheater.org.
Though many of offerings this season are kid-friendly, there are a number of children's theatre options for families this December as well. New York City Children's Theater's 70-minute Young Charles Dickens tells the story of a Christmas Eve in Dickens's childhood in the form of an original musical based on the picture book A Boy Called Dickens.
Young Charles Dickens plays at Theater 3, December 5, 2015- January 3, 2016. Tickets from $25-$45.
Vital Theatre presents the return of the musical Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas by Cara Lustik, Randy Klein, and Matthew Hardy, based on the children's book of the same name.
Fancy Nancy: Spendiferous Christmas plays at The Theater at St. Jean, November 28-December 27, 2015. Tickets from $49.50-$59.50.
(Richard Patterson is a critic and editor for Exeunt Magazine as well as a playwright and lyricist. Visit him at therichardpatterson.com and follow @broadwaygayby on Twitter.)