We are expecting a major winter storm here in the NY area tomorrow and Christmas is only one week away. This year the season itself seems to be flying away so rapidly that I can hardly believe it. It’s been a dicey holiday season given the times in which we live. People are worrying about employment, the economy, our, well, everything. Anyway, for the first time in a long time I have been swept up in the season so I thought I’d give a very brief list of some of the my personal favorite musical theatre-related Christmas songs. If there’s anything you think I’ve overlooked, feel free to comment (and no, “I Don’t Remember Christmas” from Starting Here, Starting Now does not count).
“Twelve Days to Christmas” – She Loves Me. This song is a brilliant summation of Christmas in retail – from the perspectives of both the employees and consumers. The advancement of the plot from December 13 through the evening of the 24th is your typical Bock & Harnick – charm, wit and (very importantly) plot and character development. The song starts in a leisurely tempo, with book scenes interspliced showing how the two lead characters are growing fond of each other, but each time we go back to the song the tempo picks up pace until it becomes a full out patter verse complete with malapropisms on Christmas Eve. It’s a beautiful way to build the show to its inevitable and breathtakingly simple finale between Amalia and Georg. (And if you recall, I listen to the cast album every Christmas Eve).
“Pine Cones and Holly Berries” – Here’s Love. This musical adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street opened in late 1963 to less than stellar critical response in spite of a cast that included Janis Paige, Craig Stevens and Laurence Naismith (others included Fred Gwynne, Baayork Lee and Michael Bennett). Written and composed by Meredith Willson, the show wasn’t his best effort, but did feature a showstopping opening – a march overture that segued into an onstage recreation of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Willson incorporated his already popular “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas,” but he turned it into a quodlibet by adding this song as a counterpoint. (Interesting note: many people know that “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Goodnight My Somone” were written to complement each other, but did you know that a contrapuntal reprise of “My White Knight” and “The Sadder-But-Wiser-Girl” was originally written for the scene prior to Harold’s arrest?) Apparently, this is a favorite Christmas number for the Osmonds.
“We Need a Little Christmas” – Mame. Nothing like the world’s favorite aunt declaring an early holiday in order to raise everyone’s spirits. However, given our current economic state, the song is as timely as ever. But it is a sheer joy to see and hear; especially as delivered on the original cast album by Angela Lansbury, Jane Connell, Sab Shimino and Frankie Michaels, which remains the definitive recording of this ever-popular holiday favorite. Here is a clip of the replacement cast led by Jane Morgan (Helen Gallagher is Gooch!!) performing the original staging on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Here’s the real thing:
“Who Says There Ain’t No Santa Claus?” – Flahooley An utterly enchanting little Christmas song from this flop score by Sammy Fain and Yip Harbourg. Jerome Courtland and the effervsescent Barbara Cook in her Broadway debut lead this gem.
“Be a Santa” – Subways Are For Sleeping. Note how many of these Christmas songs have many of our best Jewish composers behind them. Irving Berlin led the way with “White Christmas,” “Happy Holiday”. We also have Sammy Fain and Jerry Herman represented here. Now it’s Jule Styne; with his steady collaborators Comden & Green. The show is most famous now for David Merrick’s publicity stunt and for Phyllis Newman’s Tony-winning tour de force as Miss Martha Vail (particularly in that ‘musical dramatic playlet written and directed by huhself’, “I Was a Shoo-In”). Sydney Chaplin leads this company number (once again we have Michael Kidd staging) in which Salvation Army Santa Claus’ dancing up a storm.
And of course, that perennial favorite from Promises Promises. “Turkey Lurkey Time” I know I posted this video last year, but hell, it’s Christmas and to steal from my friends at [title of show], this is something you want to enjoy 24-7.