A Look at 19th & 20th Century Events and Experiences
That Have Shaped Our Holiday
Coming to Broadway
Two New Musicals
School of Rock- The Musical
Broadway, Entertainment, Christmas & the Holidays
The Holiday Season is an exceptionally busy one. It’s a time when Broadway and NYC theatre offer special holiday-themed entertainments, and it’s also a time when theatre ticket sales spike. But it was not always that way.
Here’s a quick look back at what Christmas and associated entertainments were like in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
English theatre in the 19th century saw Dickens’ works, such as A Christmas Carol, adapted to the stage.
Also in England, Pantomimes, shows focusing on spectacle and based on fairy tales, were often a holiday treat.
1823: The poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, which is also known as “The Night Before Christmas” and “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas” is first published anonymously in 1823. In 1837, Clement Clarke Moore acknowledges that he wrote it.
1832: Charles Follen, Harvard’s first German professor, helps popularize the tradition of the decorated Christmas tree to New England. Harriet Martineau, an English journalist visiting Boston sees it and writes about it, spreading the word.
1843: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is first published. American author Washington Irving and Dickens were friends, and at some point Irving writes his essay entitled “Old Christmas,” harkening to English holiday traditions.
1850: By the 1850s, Santa Claus and Christmas trees are firmly “rooted” in the U.S. So too was American parlor culture. The parlor was where people gathered for holiday celebrations. Parlors included a piano or guitar, and some actually housed small theatres where plays were performed.
1863: German-born cartoonist Thomas Nast has his first of many illustrations of Santa Claus published in Harper’s Weekly.
1870: On June 24th, President Ulysses S. Grant signs the bill, making Christmas an official holiday in the U.S. Also included as holidays in the bill were Thanksgiving, January 1st, and July 4th.
1897: “Is There a Santa Claus?” was the title of an editorial appearing in the September 21, 1897, edition of The (New York) Sun. The editorial, which included the famous reply “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”, is one of the best known, reprinted, and referenced editorials to ever appear in newsprint.
1899: Ben Hur- A Tale of Christ, which was written by Lew Wallace in 1880, is turned into a play. It runs in New York for 194 performances, opening on November 29, 1899. This play, which was renowned for its spectacle, violence, and reverence to Christ, would be done across America for 21 years.
1903: Victor Herbert’s operetta Babes in Toyland opens in NYC on October 13th and enjoys a 192-show run that goes through the holidays and ends in March 1904. Although not a Christmas show, the toy theme, buoyant music, and fantasy captured some of the holiday spirit.
1920sopular Christmas songs of the time included At the Christmas Ball (Bessie Smith), The Santa Claus Blues (Clarence Williams), and Lonesome Christmas Blues (Blind Blake).
1924: The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is held, and, yes, Santa closes out the original event, as he still does today.
1933: On December 21st, the first Radio City Christmas Spectacular was performed. It ran for two weeks. Radio City had opened just one-year prior. The show did and always has featured Santa.
All of what is cited above is a far cry from what is now offered. For a more in-depth look at why and how holiday entertainments developed in the U.S. please click here.
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Music and Lyrics: Wayne Kirkpatrick & Karey Kirkpatrick
Book: Karey Kirkpatrick & John O’Farrell
Director & Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw
St. James Theatre
Preview: Mar. 23. 2015 Open: Apr. 22. 2015
The new musical comedy Something Rotten! tells the tale of two brothers in Elizabethan theatre who are desperate to create a hit show that will eclipse the glimmering achievements and overarching ego of William Shakespeare. The theatrical duo of brothers comes up with a unique idea- to create the world’s first musical.
With that, Something Rotten! is off and running with its story punctuated by contagious tap dancing, clever rhythms, memorable music, and fortune telling. This is a tale for the ages, the ageless, and today’s Broadway world. Directed by Casey Nicholaw (Aladdin, Book of Mormon), Something Rotten! is a romp of a musical comedy.
Additional Music and Lyrics: Andrew Lloyd Webber & Glenn Slater
Book: Julian Fellowes
Director: Laurence Connor
Choreographer: JoAnn M. Hunter
Winter Garden Theatre
Preview: Nov. 2, 2015 Open: Dec 6, 2015
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock—The Musical is based on the popular 2003 movie of the same name that starred Jack Black. With additional music and lyrics by Webber and Glenn Slater and book by Julian Fellowes, School of Rock is the latest Broadway bound musical by Webber. In School of Rock—The Musical, Dewey Finn desperately wants to be a rock star. He disguises himself as a substitute teacher and lands a gig as an instructor at a prestigious prep school.
The musical comedy veers into the world of hot guitar riffs, pounding drum rhythms, and pulsating tempos when Dewey realizes that his students have some real musical talent. The faux teacher forms a rock band with his musically inclined fourth-grade students in order to win the Battle of the Bands and pay off his rent. But in this musical comedy, there’s a lot to be learned, including important lessons taught to Dewey by his students and band members.