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Screen to Stage: 6 Christmas Specials That Would Make Great Broadway Musicals

Category Broadway

|by Mark Robinson |

Reimagining our holiday favorites onstage

It’s nearly time for Christmas, and many of our favorite television holiday specials are getting their yearly airings. They remain dear to us for their colorful imagery and their tuneful storytelling, a big part of what makes the holidays memorable, and several of the best – including How The Grinch Stole Christmas! and A Charlie Brown Christmas – have been successfully adapted into stage musicals. With Santa making his list and checking it twice, we take a look at some of these musical holiday favorites of the tube, and imagine which ones would be a festive fit for the Broadway musical stage.  

'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' is now playing at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden (Photo: 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas')

'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' is now playing at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden (Photo: 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas')

Mrs. Santa Claus
The 1996 made-for-television musical Mrs. Santa Claus seems like an ideal property for the Broadway musical stage. Featuring a score by Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!La Cage aux Folles), the piece is bursting with terrific songs including “Avenue A,” “A Tavish Toy,” “Almost Young,” “The Best Christmas of All” and the title song, Mrs. Santa Claus was devised as a vehicle for Broadway, film and television star Angela Lansbury. Set in 1910, the piece follows the titular character who sets out to find a new Christmas Eve route for her husband, only to end up stranded in New York City where she gets involved in the lives of a handful of locals.

The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood
You all know the story of Little Red Riding Hood, but this made-for-TV musical put a fresh spin on the classic fairy tale, with the Big Bad Wolf telling us his version of the story. It’s Christmas Eve, and Little Red is making her way to Grandmother’s house, where she is under the illusion that the beast is trying to attack her when he is simply minding his own business. The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood first aired in 1965, starring Liza Minnelli and Cyril Ritchard. What makes it perfect for the musical stage is its delightful score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, who also wrote the score for the Broadway smash Funny Girl.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 
Rankin & Bass were the creators of dozens of holiday specials, none more iconic than their stop-motion animated classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Built around the Johnny Marks song of the same name, the made-for-TV special told the story of a misfit reindeer who defies convention and saves Christmas with his courage, individuality and his blinking-red proboscis. The special first aired in 1964, becoming a perennial favorite and featuring a handful of songs including “Silver and Gold,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” “We Are Santa’s Elves,” “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year,” “There’s Always Tomorrow” and, of course, the title song.

Not exactly a Christmas film per se, but one that is befitting of Christmas nonetheless, was the 2000 made-for-TV musical Geppetto. It’s the classic Carlo Collodi fairy tale Pinocchio, but told from the point of view as the kindly toymaker Geppetto who lovingly creates a marionette and wishes upon a star that he become a real boy. The musical has a score by none other than Stephen Schwartz who also gave us the music and lyrics for a few Broadway musicals, including WickedPippin and Godspell.

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol 
We mentioned Jule Styne and Bob Merrill earlier, as the composing team that gave us The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood and Funny Girl. In 1962, the duo created an animated version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that featured the animated character, the near-sighted Mr. Magoo, as a Broadway star performing in a musical stage production of the tale. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is a revered classic among musical theater lovers and fans of television holiday specials. It’s not hard to see why, as the score is charming and the animation evocative, with the standout numbers “The Lord’s Bright Blessing” and “Winter Was Warm” ensconced in our hearts forever.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
Everyone has seen at least one version of L. Frank Baum’s timeless classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which has received myriad adaptations for the stage and the screen. What they may not know is that he also wrote other children’s books, including The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, which tells the story of how St. Nick came to be and how the traditions of Christmas evolved around him. Rankin & Bass brought The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus to television in 1985 (with the same stop-motion animation technique they used on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)The story was told with music, featuring songs like “Babe in the Woods” and “Big Surprise.” The score would need to be augmented for a stage adaptation, but it is a story worthy of being told theatrically.  

Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia, and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. He maintains a theater and entertainment blog at


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