Musicals specifically written for the stage with Christmas celebrations a major ingredient are fairly rare and those that exist tend to be based on successful and loved Christmas movies. Try to image a television Christmas without Miracle on 34th Street, A Wonderful Life or White Christmas. All have found their way onto the stage. And, not surprisingly Dickens comes into the plot both on television and stage. His novel A Christmas Carol has been the base for a number of stage and television plays and musical shows, the most successful being Scrooge.
Scrooge started off as a film starring Albert Finney in the title role. Leslie Bricusse adapted Dicken’s story and wrote the lyrics and music for eleven songs. It was a starry production boasting cameo parts by Dame Edith Evans, Sir Alec Guinness and Kenneth More. It nearly didn’t happen as just weeks before shooting started its leading man, Richard Burton was taken ill and had to withdraw and the second choice Richard Harris not being needed had taken a stage role in London’s West End. It was literally the day before shooting started that Albert Finney was contracted. It was released in 1970 and Bricusse was nominated for an Academy Award for his score.
Scrooge – the musical appeared in 1992 as a vehicle for Bricusse’s once partner and still close friend Anthony Newley. It played the Christmas season at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham and, still with Newley heading the cast, in 1996 it played the London Dominion for the Christmas season. There was a touring company playing throughout the British Isles often headed by Tommy Steele. He brought it to the London Palladium for the 2012 Christmas season. More recently it was seen at the Curve, Leicester.
The film Miracle on 34th Street became a Broadway show with book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson retitled Here’s Love. It opened in 1963 and ran for 334 performances. There have been few revivals and there was a small scale touring version in the UK a few years ago.
A Wonderful Life is a screen classic and there have been two attempts to make it into a stage musical. The first, by Sheldon Harnick and Joe Raposo, was produced in 1986 at the University of Michigan and has been revived periodically since then. The second version was by Bruce Greer and Keith Ferguson for the Majestic Theatre in Dallas where it was the annual Christmas show for five years – it has also been produced all over the United States.
Then there is White Christmas, a film that was already a spin-off of Holiday Inn. The famed Irving Berlin score has led to stage productions both in the States and in the UK, where again it is treated as a holiday production. The UK producers had success with a number of other seasonal musicals including Peter Pan and two based on the Dudley Moore vehicle Santa Claus – The Movie.
Elf! Is a more recent contender appearing on Broadway (2010 and 2012) and in the UK provinces before a London Christmas season in 2015. Again based on a film it seems set to be a regular especially on the American touring circuit.
And, there are two new British Christmas musical shows in Nativity – the Musical, based on a hugely successful British movie about the putting on of a nativity play by children and The Christmasaurus based on the number one selling book of the same name which plays over Christmas at Hammersmith Apollo, while Nativity is touring the United Kingdom and has played a week at the Hammersmith Apollo where it is set for the Christmas season in 2018.
There are many songs about Christmas that appear in so many musicals – to name just a few: We need a little Christmas (Mame), Twelve days of Christmas (She Loves Me), Be a Santa (Subways are for sleeping), Lovers on Christmas Eve (I Love My Wife), Hard candy Christmas (Best little Whorehouse), Christmas lullady (Songs for a new world), Turkey, turkey time (Promises, Promises), Have yourself a merry little Christmas (Meet me in St Louis), Christmas child (Irma La Douce), Christmas is my favourite time of the year (Catch me if you can), I don’t remember Christmas (Starting Here Starting Now), A Greenwillow Christmas (Greenwillow), Christmas at Hampton Court (Rex).
Rexton S Bunnett Illustrations from the Overtures Archive