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6 Shows You Should See in December

Enjoy new dramas garnished with a sprig of holiday cheer.

Lately, Christmas seems to sprawl from November 1 to New Year's Eve. With so much yuletide cheer to go around (and around and around), you might want a bit of a break when you go to the theater. That's why I'm only recommending one Christmas show this month. Not everything is about the holidays: New York is hosting the world premieres of several exciting new dramas, and one inventive new musical. Here's what you have to look forward to onstage:

The cast participates in a table-read for Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven.
(© Ahron R. Foster)

1. Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven (running until December 29)
The last time Stephen Adly Guirgis premiered a play at Atlantic Theater Company, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. That was 2014's Between Riverside and Crazy, about a retired police officer hosting troubled long-term guests in his rent-controlled apartment. This new play takes place in a women's halfway house and stars previous Guirgis collaborators Sean Carvajal (who won a special Drama Desk for jumping into the 2018 revival of Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train), Victor Almanzar (Riverside), and Liza Colón-Zayas (who has frequently worked with the playwright since 2003's Our Lady of 121st Street). There's so much talent in this show!

John Kevin Jones delivers a cup of holiday cheer in A Christmas Carol at the Merchant's House.
(photo provided by Boneau/Bryan-Brown)

2. A Christmas Carol at the Merchant's House (running until January 5)
I promised you one, and it's a real gem: For the seventh year in a row, John Kevin Jones returns to the Merchant's House Museum for his solo performance of the Charles Dickens holiday classic. Taking place entirely within the cozy Victorian parlor of the house (which is still decorated with the furniture of the house's original inhabitants), it feels like attending a private reading by Dickens himself. This is my favorite theatrical event of the holiday season in New York.

A scene from Richard Jones's staging of The Hairy Ape at Park Avenue Armory.
(© Stephanie Berger)

3. Judgment Day (December 5-January 10)
The drill hall of Park Avenue Armory is the biggest stage in the city, and I never miss an opportunity to visit. This month, it is hosting Judgment Day, a new adaptation of Ödön von Horváth's 1937 play by Christopher Shinn (Dying City). It tells the story of Thomas Hudetz, a stationmaster struggling with guilt in the wake of a terrible train accident. Luke Kirby, who won an Emmy for his portrayal of Lenny Bruce on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, plays Thomas. Richard Jones directs, making his first return to the Armory since The Hairy Ape, which was absolutely the best thing I've ever seen at the Armory.

Nina Hellman, Judith Ivey, Ken Narasaki, Edmund Donovan, and Andrew Garman appear in Samuel D. Hunter's Greater Clements at Lincoln Center Theater.
(© T. Charles Erickson)

4. Greater Clements (running until January 19)
Samuel D. Hunter returns to familiar territory in his latest play at Lincoln Center Theater, set in a decaying Idaho mining town. Two-time Tony winner Judith Ivey plays Maggie, a mine tour operator who is on the verge of closing the family business. She is also caring for a troubled adult son played by Edmund Donovan, who gave one of my favorite performances of last year in Hunter's Lewiston/Clarkston. A mysterious visitor from her past (played by Ken Narasaki) leads her to dream again about the life she wanted, but never had. Hunter is one of the most astute playwrights in America, and these are some of the best actors in the business.

Enda Walsh won a Tony Award for writing the book to Once. His latest project is Sing Street at New York Theatre Workshop.
(© Tristan Fuge)

5. Sing Street (running until January 26)
Based on John Carney's 2016 film, Sing Street is about Conor, an Irish teenager entering a new school in the early 1980s. He and his friends mentally escape from the prevailing economic malaise by forming a band. The book for this new musical is by Enda Walsh, who won a Tony for Best Book for his adaptation of Carney's 2007 film, Once. Carney himself has composed the music in collaboration with Gary Clark (front man for the Scottish pop band Danny Wilson). Expect new-wave sounds and innovative staging (by director Rebecca Taichman and choreographer Sonya Tayeh) in this exciting world premiere at New York Theatre Workshop — the theater where Rent debuted.

Yesenia Ayala and Isaac Powell are set to star in West Side Story on Broadway.
(© Tricia Baron)

6. West Side Story (performances begin December 10)
The Capulets and Montagues become the Sharks and the Jets in this beloved musical about star-crossed love in a time of gang warfare. This latest revival doesn't officially open until February, but Broadway audiences will be let in on previews starting in December. That's a long preview period for a show that has already stirred up a fair amount of controversy over director Ivo van Hove's bold cuts to the score. You can see for yourself whether the show works without "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet long before any critics get to weigh in. This show is all anyone on Broadway will be talking about this winter.