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9 Holiday Shows to Make Your Season Merry and Bright

'Tis the season to see theater.

Some people enter a live theater only around the holidays, usually opting for a repertory production of A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker. We at TheaterMania obviously disapprove of such sparing enjoyment of the stage. But if you are going to indulge solely at Christmastime, you really ought to make it count. Here are nine shows in New York that are sure to leave you feeling jolly.

For tickets and more information, click on the title of a show.

Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales star in Jinkx & Major: Christmas Mourning at the Laurie Beechman Theatre.
(© Nate Watters)

1. Jinkx & Major: Christmas Mourning
The holiday engagement of vaudevillians Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales has become a tradition at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, New York's premier destination for drag cabaret (Monsoon is the winner of season 5 of RuPaul's Drag Race). While their previous show, Unwrapped, examined the joys of holiday drinking, this new act is an elegy for the simpler days of Christmas past (George Bailey never had to contend with Black Friday sales). Always astute and hilarious, Jinkx and Major are sure to have a fresh take on holiday nostalgia, both real and imagined.

John Kevin Jones stars in A Christmas Carol at the Merchant's House Museum.
(© Joey Stocks)

2. A Christmas Carol
For the fourth year in a row, actor and Summoners Ensemble Theatre executive director John Kevin Jones returns to the historic Merchant's House Museum to perform his solo version of A Christmas Carol, just as Charles Dickens would have done it had he been invited into the exquisitely preserved Victorian townhouse. Simultaneously old-school and unconventional in the age of big repertory productions, this is our favorite little holiday tradition. Jones holds the small parlor full of guests in thrall as he illuminates Dickens' words, so you're bound to hear things in this story that you would have missed in previous incarnations.

3. The First Noel
Playing the legendary Apollo Theater on 125th Street, this heartwarming musical from Classical Theatre of Harlem follows one Harlem family as it copes with the tragic Christmastime death of daughter Noel. It's an especially hard time for a younger daughter who bears the same name (she's the second Noel). This downbeat premise is lifted on high by a live band playing Lelund Durond Thompson and Jason Michael Webb's holiday and gospel score. A framing device also holds out hope for a happy ending: While most of the story takes place in the 1980s, an adult Noel returns to Harlem circa 2016 to sell the brownstone the family has owned since her childhood. Cha-ching.

4. The Ninth Annual Joe Iconis Christmas Extravaganza
Composer Joe Iconis and his very extended family take over Feinstein's/54 Below in a red and green explosion of holiday cheer. This thing has been going on for nearly a decade, and it's one of Broadway's favorite events. There are about a thousand performers occupying every available cranny of the dining room, making it one of the most truly spectacular evenings on the cabaret calendar. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Sophie Knapp plays Madeline in Madeline's Christmas at Theatre Row's Lion Theatre.
(© Zayira Ray)

5. Madeline's Christmas
Based on Ludwig Bemelmans' stories about a Catholic boarding school in Paris, this musical is about what happens when everyone in that old vine-covered house comes down with the flu just in time for Christmas — everyone, that is, but the stalwart Madeline. Clocking in at just 60 minutes, this limited run from KOTA productions (a company that features mostly child actors) is a great opportunity to take your kids off-off-Broadway for the holidays.

Ann Harada stars in Christmas Eve's Holiday Hunkfest at Howl at the Moon.
(© Monica Simoes)

6. Christmas Eve's Holiday Hunkfest
Ann Harada will reprise the role of Christmas Eve from Avenue Q for this one-night-only benefit for Broadway cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Harada is set to perform an eclectic set of show tunes and pop hits as Christmas Eve. Throughout the show, she will be joined onstage by some of Broadway's best beefcakes. We can't think of a steamier way to spend a Monday night in December. Ho-Ho-Ho!

7. Justin Vivian Bond: The Bipolar Express
Best known as Kiki from the legendary cabaret duo Kiki & Herb, Justin Vivian Bond returns to Joe's Pub with a holiday show for our manic-depressive times. With the backing of band members Matt Ray, Claudia Chopek, and NathAnn Carrera, Bond promises to engage our hearts and minds with unique (and occasionally transgressive) renditions of songs old and new: The 2014 show featured numbers by Taylor Swift, Victor Herbert, and Kate Bush. "Don't forget to take your meds," the Joe's Pub website helpfully warns about this head trip of a holiday concert.

8. The Hard Nut
Mark Morris Dance Group presents this novel take on Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, transposing the beloved Russian holiday ballet to the decadent 1970s. Don't expect tinny synth-pop arrangements though: This lavish production features a 53-piece orchestra performing the complete original score in BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House. Choreographer Mark Morris has been delighting audiences with this show since 1991, which is now as far from us as the '70s were from Morris when he first conceived it. The audiences keep flocking, suggesting that Morris has created something with far more endurance than a clever gimmick.

The Rockettes star in The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, directed by Julie Branam, at Radio City Music Hall.
(© MSG entertainment)

9. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular
There's only one Christmas Spectacular and it's at Radio City Music Hall. Real Camels, an onstage double-decker bus, and the Rockettes: What more could you want? Nothing on Broadway is as extravagant as the Christmas Spectacular and the tireless Rockettes perform the show four to six times a day, so you can definitely fit it into your busy shopping schedule. (Where else can you catch a 9am curtain?) There's simply no excuse to miss this most cherished of New York holiday traditions.