10 Christmas Songs Performed by Broadway Stars
In an effort to get into the holiday spirit, I began searching the internet and my CD collection for Christmas carols that put me in the spirit and along the way I found so many wonderful renditions of yuletide tunes sung by Broadway performers. Today’s blog invites you to pour a glass of eggnog, curl up by the fire, and share in some of my favorite holiday songs brought to you via the Broadway voice.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” – Liza Minnelli and Alan Cumming
This song was written for the film Neptune’s Daughter by none other than Broadway composer Frank Loesser (Guys & Dolls, How to Succeed…, The Most Happy Fella). The song was so popular that it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Seductive and predatory in its original incarnation, it’s so much fun to hear Liza Minnelli (Flora, the Red Menace, The Act) and Alan Cumming (Cabaret, Threepenny Opera) play it as a goofy argument. Not exactly a Christmas song, but one that has come to be associated with Christmas. Minnelli and Cumming recorded it for the album Broadway Cares – Home for the Holidays. Comedic perfection!
“There’s a Place Called Home” – Emily Skinner
Emily Skinner (Side Show, The Full Monty) wrapped her sumptuous voice around this enchanting song from the Alan Menken – Lynn Ahrens A Christmas Carol that played for several Christmases at Madison Square Gardens. The song is about as close as you can get to painting the ideal picture of the perfect holiday and capturing the importance of family. Simple imagery married to an exquisite performance is all it takes to make the tears well up and the pangs of nostalgia to set in. We all idealize our Christmases past and this song, beautifully executed by Skinner, just helps that feeling along.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – Vanessa Williams
No one…and I mean no one… will ever out-sing Judy Garland on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from the 1944 movie musical Meet Me in St. Louis. It’s an iconic performance that is not to be matched. However, Vanessa Williams (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Into the Woods, Sondheim on Sondheim) comes damn close to erasing that memory (for a few minutes) on her album Silver and Gold. Williams is smart; she doesn’t try to recreate Garland’s indelible version, but instead opts for an understated sincerity and quiet reflection. It’s gorgeous and gets at the heart of the song’s themes of love and family.
“Santa Baby” – Eartha Kitt
How I miss the purr and growl of the late Eartha Kitt (New Faces of ’52, Shinbone Alley, The Wild Party), who is perhaps best-remembered for her saucy performance of “Santa Baby.” Christmas never looked or sounded as sexy as this. The song, by Joan Javits and Phillip Springer was recorded by Kitt in 1953 and it went on to be a holiday sensation, climbing the charts. The song details a gold digger’s wish for lavish gifts from Mr. Clause as she coyly employs a seductive, if simpering, voice to coax the lute out of his bag of presents.
“The Christmas Song” – Many Patinkin
Mandy Patinkin (Evita, Sunday in the Park with George, The Secret Garden) can incorporate a lot of sturm and drang in his performance of a song, usually to great effect when he is playing a musical theatre role. Every once and while, however, he dials it down and the subtlety and nuance come through and the understatement allows us to hone in on the velvety timber of his voice. His version of the popular 1945 tune “The Christmas Song” by Bob Wells and Mel Torme is one of his finest performances.
“O Holy Night” – Linda Eder
The pyrotechnics of Linda Eder’s voice are a perfect match for this impassioned Christmas Carol this is equal parts reverent and overflowing with hope and joy. Eder (Jekyll & Hyde) hits every note gloriously and with an energy that animates this 1847 Adolphe Adam melody that sets Placide Cappeau’s poem “Midnight Christians” to music.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” – Kristin Chenoweth
Originally recorded in 1943 by (who else?) Bing Crosby, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is another one of those songs that tugs at the heartstrings and stirs up feelings of Christmas past. Kristin Chenoweth recorded a tender and heartfelt version of the song for her 2008 album A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas. Chenoweth proves here that she is more than just a big, bawdy bundle of laughs and that, when working with the right material, can be very moving.
“Do You Hear What I Hear?” – Idina Menzel
There is an electric urgency in the song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” as it is written, so it was a masterful choice to marry this soaring song with Idina Menzel’s forceful and penetrating voice. What’s nice here is that Ms. Menzel finesses the song, finding judicious moments to build and to belt, “Letting go” and taking the song into the stratosphere when it’s most effective. There is nothing “frozen” about the fire she infuses in this rendition. Okay…enough Frozen puns…
“White Christmas” – Barbra Streisand
If you can’t have Bing Crosby’s version, a close runner-up is Barbra Streisand’s “White Christmas” which she performs to great effect by simply keeping it reflective and understated (how it should be). This 1942 Irving Berlin standard is easily the most nostalgic of all Christmas carols, and it is also one of the most-recorded Christmas carols of all time (there are over 500 recorded versions of the ditty). Streisand (I Can Get It For You Wholesale, Funny Girl) recorded the song for her 1967 album simply titled A Christmas Album.
“Winter Boy” – Colm Wilkinson
My favorite Christmas carol of all is “Winter Boy” performed by London and Broadway’s original Jean Valjean, one Colm Wilkinson. Wilkinson has a haunting voice, a spectral and spooky tenor that makes this interpretation of “Winter Boy” something special to behold. This was recorded on the set of Les Miserables for the 1988 fundraiser “Save the Children” which served to help the Save the Children organization which strives to aid children who are victims of war, strife and natural disasters. “Winter Boy” may not be a carol that we recognize, but take a moment and listen to its simple beauty.