Let’s face it, 2020 hasn’t been the best of years. That’s why it’s more important than ever before to focus on the good things around us. And what better time of year to do it than at Christmas?!
We at Theatre Haus have been making a list (and checking it twice) of some of musical theatre’s best Christmas songs. From old-time classics to new seasonal serenades, we’ve got your playlist sorted these holidays.
So, let’s untangle the tree lights, decorate the pavlova, and deck the halls with jingle bells. It’s time to rock around the Christmas Tree with our Very Merry Musical Playlist!
“A Christmas Song” – ‘Elf the Musical’
Starting off the playlist is a song sure to spread some Christmas cheer to people of all ages.
Based on the film of the same name, ‘Elf the Musical’ follows the story of Buddy – a grown man raised as one of Santa’s elves. When he is informed by the big man in red that his family is alive, Buddy searches for them in New York City. He is shocked and saddened to discover that his father and brother are on Santa’s “naughty list”. Therefore, Buddy sets upon trying to change his human family’s attitude towards Christmas with some help from his friends at the North Pole.
The Will Farrell-led ‘Elf’ has become a staple among Christmas films for millennials all around the world. Its musical adaptation has cemented it further as a family favourite for the holiday season. If you’re looking to get into the yuletide spirit (and perhaps a dose of nostalgia), then you can’t go past “A Christmas Song”. And yes, it sits firmly on the ‘good’ list.
“Christmas Bells” – ‘Rent’
Hey, it’s beginning to snow!
Christmas is traditionally a time of hope and goodwill. Even in the direst of circumstances, little instances of joy can be found throughout the season. That appears to be an underpinning message throughout the song “Christmas Bells” from ‘Rent’.
Throughout “Christmas Bells”, many of the show’s characters are preoccupied with preparations for a protest, as well as personal, health and financial issues. However, interspersed throughout the chaotic lyrics are small moments of peace whereby one-by-one they realise it is starting to snow. These instances of quiet clarity reflect the importance of stopping and noticing the little things in life that are joyous. Quite a befitting message for Christmas time – the “season of love”.
“Christmas is My Favorite Time of Year” – ‘Catch Me If You Can’
Christmas is a time to share with your nearest and dearest. For most of us that would entail our family and friends. For Frank Abagnale Jr. however, that would mean calling FBI Agent Carl Hanratty who just so happens to be chasing him for forgery.
“Christmas is My Favorite Time of Year”, the Act I finale of ‘Catch Me If You Can’, explores how people with opposing lives can bond over shared values and beliefs. While one of the show’s protagonists is a conman and the other a federal officer, they provide comfort through their mutual love of the holidays. Neither is exactly where they wish they could be for the season, yet in knowing that another person is feeling similarly, they feel less alone.
“Christmas is My Favorite Time of Year” feels more poignant than ever in 2020. With geographical separation, a real factor for many this Christmas season, the song’s message of togetherness even in absence is sure to bring listeners just as much comfort as it does Abagnale and Hanratty.
“Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” – ‘Billy Elliot: The Musical’
Based upon the crowd-pleasing 2000 film, ‘Billy Elliot: The Musical’ tells the story of a young British boy growing up in 1980s County Durham. Turning his back on the favoured pastime of boxing, he dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. These sentiments are interspersed with a coal mining strike, whereby residents all lament their desire to get back to what they love doing.
Act II commences with the annual Christmas pageant and the strike in full swing. With residents’ tempers burning (and the children’s holiday spirit shining), the show delivers a Christmas number unlike any other. “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” can be best described as a political rally song disguised as a holiday ditty. With an upbeat, catchy tune and a cheerful delivery, one may be forgiven for thinking the song is a genuine wish of good tidings to the then-prime minister of Britain. The lyrics, however, tell a very different story.
Filled with snark, irritation, and just a dash of dark humour, “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” is the perfect anti-Christmas song. Although it may not appease all listeners with its message of disillusionment, its catchiness and ability to not take itself too seriously is likely to bring a smile to any ‘Billy Elliot’ fan’s face.
“Turkey Lurkey Time” – ‘Promises, Promises’
Looking for that perfect song to vamp up the Christmas office party? Well, good thing it’s “Turkey Lurkey Time” then.
A comical set piece of the 1968 musical ‘Promises, Promises’, “Turkey Lurkey Time” serves as a fun-filled reprieve towards the end of Act I. With the musical’s main focus upon the unrequited love and disappointments of Chuck Baxter, the song’s ridiculously catchy hook provides him, and the audience, a pleasant distraction. Although it does not have great precedence to the plot or narrative, “Turkey Lurkey Time” offers everyone involved a moment to relax and enjoy the festive spirit.
So put this one on and have a ‘Turkey Lurkey, Loosey Goosey, Merry Christmas’.
“The Schmuel Song” – ‘The Last Five Years’
Christmas is a time for stories. Particularly inspiring ones at that, which is exactly what“The Schmuel Song” is from ‘The Last Five Years’.
In this musical, writer Jamie aims to inspire his bartending girlfriend Cathy to pursue her acting dreams with a story about a tailor named Schmuel. What first appears to be a seemingly random story soon turns into an analogy for following your passion in life. At the song’s end Jamie gifts Cathy with an appointment for new headshots. Through reinforcing the notion that Christmas is a time for inspiration (as well as giving), Jamie helps Cathy to realise her own and to go for it fully.
“The Schmuel Song” is a fun little story set to music which is sure to get any listener thinking about their own ambitions in life and to go after them like Cathy… and Schmuel.
“Sing A Christmas Carol” – ‘Scrooge’
Based upon one of the most famous works of English literature, Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Scrooge’ explores the life of the eponymous antihero in great depth. Following the novella’s story, the musical opens with an orchestral number dedicated to the spirit of Christmas.
“Sing a Christmas Carol” masters the balance of an epic yet reserved musical number. The ensembles harmonising is reminiscent of a church choir, giving the piece an ethereal feel. Its message, however, is quaint. Be kind to each other. Spread joy. Be merry. The song perfectly sums up Dickens’ moral which in turn flows throughout ‘Scrooge’ fluently.
Listening to “Sing A Christmas Carol” will conjure up images of Christmas markets and snow. It is sure to melt away the ‘bah humbug’ spirit from even the biggest Scrooge.
“We Need a Little Christmas” – ‘Mame’
Now for a song that has become an iconic institution in its own right. “We Need a Little Christmas” has been covered by the likes of Idina Menzel, Pentatonix, Glee, and even The Muppets. But one of its strongest renditions is undoubtedly its original inclusion within the 1966 musical ‘Mame’.
Telling the story of a socialite who recently lost her wealth in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, ‘Mame’ focuses more upon the positive aspects of life than its downsides. “We Need a Little Christmas” is sung in hopes of cheering up protagonist Mame Dennis’ nephew Patrick after the depression begins. The song acts as a beacon of hope for the pair. Its hopeful message has subsequently seen it adopted into popular culture.
Even when things look bleak, “We Need a Little Christmas” manages to inspire creativity and hope. It is a great addition to any festive playlist and we need it… now.
“A New Deal for Christmas” – ‘Annie’
The sun will come out tomorrow… and it’ll bring a new deal with it.
As the closing number for the show ‘Annie’, “A New Deal for Christmas” celebrates the light at every dark tunnel. Specifically, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ which is set to get America out of depression. The song joyfully mirrors the journey Annie has been on throughout the show – from despondent orphan to a new member of a wealthy family. Similar to “The Schmuel Song”, “A New Deal for Christmas” reinforces the importance of dreams and ambitions, with the latter focusing on them finally coming true.
“A New Deal for Christmas” triumphs as both ‘Annie’s’ conclusion and a festive song. Although times and politics have changed, its message of hope remains. Make a deal with yourself to listen to this sometime over the Christmas season.
“White Christmas” – ‘White Christmas’
Arguably the most famous song featured on this playlist, “White Christmas” has become a staple of the festive season. Originated by Bing Crosby in 1942, the song has since been immortalised in the eponymous 1954 film and its 2000 musical adaptation.
With wistful lyrics and a lullaby-esque melody, “White Christmas” transports listeners to a land of snow, holly, and jingling sleigh bells. Its sweeping calmness makes it one of the most popular songs to play over the Christmas period (and not only in theatre fans’ homes). It may be a far cry from the hot and humid celebrations we know here in Australia, but “White Christmas” is nevertheless mandatory listening for anyone with an affinity for daydreaming.
“Our Finest Dreams” – ‘Little Women’
There is a certain type of magic in experiencing Christmas as a child. Whether it be through spending time with family, opening presents, eating too much, or playing with your friends, Christmas is an extra special time for young people.
The March sisters of ‘Little Women’ know this well, particularly Jo. Having written a play for her and her sisters to perform Christmas morning, Jo asserts that it will be the best gift ever and this is reiterated in the catchy number “Our Finest Dreams”. In a similar vein to “The Schmuel Song”, Jo uses her unique gift for storytelling to paint a picture of optimistic ambition. She has crafted each character to fit her sisters’ personalities. In doing so, she aims to bring out their confidence and strength in the performance – a truly magical Christmas gift.
“Our Finest Dreams” is a delightful little song which showcases the way Christmas is experienced through youthful eyes. It is a great song to play when you are feeling nostalgic for your childhood. Put this on and let your finest Christmas dreams come true.
“You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch” – ‘Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical’
Now for a song that will make even the biggest Christmas fan see green!
Since its inception in 1996, ‘Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical’ has become a seasonal highlight for theatre and Seussian fans alike. It tells the story of the eponymous Grinch whose hatred for the festive season causes him to attempt to sabotage it at every turn. “You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch”, arguably the production’s most famous song, was penned by Dr Seuss himself for the 1966 cartoon special the musical is based on. Using Seuss’ trademark comedic rhyming scheme, the song describes the Grinch’s callous nature and physicality.
While not as celebratory as some of the other entries on this playlist, “You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch” is no less a Christmas jam. An anthem of sorts for the less passionate participants (bah humbug!), it can still be enjoyed by all for its clever wordplay and nostalgic value. Turn this up and put a little green into your Christmas celebrations!
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’
Similar to “White Christmas”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has become a fundamental necessity to listen to over the festive season.
First made famous by Judy Garland in the 1943 film, the song serves as the musical climax of ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’. Esther Smith serenades her younger sister Tootie to try and calm her anxiety at having to move to New York. Her poignant delivery encases the song with a mixture of emotions, namely sadness and hope.
The song’s message of courage feels as pertinent today as it was when it was written. Its timeless charm affirms it as a seasonal favourite for many theatres (and Christmas) fans all over the world – including in St. Louis.
“Once Upon a December” – ‘Anastasia’
While not strictly a Christmas song, “Once Upon a December” from ‘Anastasia’ is heralded by many as a modern classic. Sung by protagonist Anya midway through the first act, the song beautifully whisks audiences away to December’s past. Anya reflects upon a past she cannot remember, but somehow feels tied to as she listens to her music box. Her melodic rumination about ‘things [her] heart used to know’ will ring true to anyone with precious memories of past Christmases.
“Once Upon a December” ethereal orchestration lulls listeners into a feeling of calm reverie. Its rhythmic lyrics engage every listener as if they are becoming privy to a shared secret. Listening to the song at least once during December is practically a must if for nothing else than the brilliant imagery it evokes. Happy listening and “dasvidaniya”.
“Christmas Eve Medley” – ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
As the bell rings at the end of our Christmas playlist, remember that it means an angel is getting its wings.
Based upon the classic 1946 film led by James Stewart, the musical ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ celebrates exactly that – life. George Bailey is a man set on suicide until he is rescued by his ‘guardian’ angel Clarence. Clarence shows George how the lives of others would have been far worse if he were never born, therefore giving him a renewed sense of purpose. George’s transcendent moment is made all the more resonant by the fact it took place on ‘the most beautiful night of the year, Christmas Eve’. It’s a cause for celebration; what better than a “Christmas Eve Medley”?
With excerpts from several classic carols including “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, “Deck the Halls”, and “Jingle Bells”, the “Christmas Eve Medley” truly does celebrate the magical power of Christmas. Much like the production itself, it affirms just how wonderful life can be.
What’s your favourite Musical Christmas melody to listen to during the holidays? Deck the comments with boughs of suggestions.
Alternatively, listen to our Very Merry Musical Playlist on Spotify!