The City has a wide range of festive entertainment this holiday season. Along with wholesome shows such as the famed Christmas Spectacular at Radio City and the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker, you’ll also find untraditional options featuring everything from vintage cocktails to bawdy burlesque. Below we’ve got our favorite Nice and Naughty picks for the 2018 season, with each rated on a 1–5 scale to show just how much sugar or spice (for our purposes, candy canes or fire) to expect. The list moves from the most family-friendly of options down to the most outrageous.
Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes
Radio City Music Hall, through January 1, 2019
Running for more than 80 years, this is the granddaddy of holiday shows in the City. But don’t let its age fool you; this aptly named spectacular has received some high-tech updates in recent years with amazing digital projections and, new for 2018, the addition of 100 Intel drones to the big, sparkly mix.
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
New York City Ballet, through December 30
Another NYC classic, presented every year since 1954, this two-act ballet features choreography by the New York City Ballet’s famed co-founder. The show is also known for its stagecraft. Particularly impressive is the Christmas tree that magically grows from a sapling to a 40-foot-tall tower of lights and ornaments.
Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Show
Imperial Theatre, December 7–30
New for 2018, this Broadway production brings American Idol stars and longtime pals Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken together for a family-friendly holiday variety show. They’ll be singing your favorite songs, doing some sketches and bantering about their down-home holiday traditions.
David Geffen Hall, December 11–15
This rousing presentation of Handel’s famed oratorio is back for its annual presentation at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic orchestra. The two-and-a-half-hour program is a glorious gift for serious music lovers, with “hallelujahs” by the Westminster Symphonic Choir.
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical
Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, December 13–30
That mean one, Mr. Grinch, comes to Midtown in this live-action musical version of the beloved Dr. Seuss children’s book. The show is kid-friendly and kid-size at a breezy 85 minutes and packed with songs from the iconic 1966 TV special along with some new numbers.
A Christmas Carol at The Merchant’s House
Merchant’s House Museum, through December 29
Transport yourself back to the 19th century with this unique one-man show. Actor John Kevin Jones re-creates Charles Dickens’ own 1867 performance of his classic Christmas story at a landmark Greek Revival townhouse in the East Village. Period decorations (plus traditional mulled wine on some nights) help make this a cozy way to relive the magic of Dickens’ timeless tale.
Michael Feinstein: Swingin’ with the Season
Feinstein’s/54 Below, December 23–30
Crooner Michael Feinstein swings his way through American Songbook faves such as “White Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” at this intimate Midtown cabaret. The December 25 performance is set up as dinner and a show with a festive prix-fixe meal.
Imbible: Christmas Carol Cocktails Edition
The Producers’ Club, through December 29
Ever wonder what happened after Ebenezer Scrooge’s long Christmas night? This show takes place on the morning that proceeds the events of A Christmas Carol, as Scrooge wakes up and conjures cocktails of the past, present and future with help from Marley’s mixologist. Audience members are served three Christmas-themed drinks as part of the boozy celebration of the season.
A Murray Little Christmas
Joe’s Pub, December 15–17
Popular comedian Murray Hill emcees this annual variety show with a downtown spin. With the backing of his Craigslist Quartet, Murray sings his favorite holiday songs—including the title track, with new lyrics—and tells his trademark old-school jokes. Adding to the fun are burlesque by Hot Toddy and a performance by Murray’s nephew, Nik the Reeedic.
The Hard Nut
Brooklyn Academy of Music, December 14–23
Choreographer Mark Morris gives the familiar Nutcracker story and music his own funky spin, situating it in the 1970s and adding a very postmodern take on this Christmas chestnut. Male sugar plum fairies? Check. Dancing GI Joes? Why not. This fun frolic of a show has become its own local holiday tradition.
Justin Vivian Bond is Refrigerated
Joe’s Pub, December 13–22
This downtown chanteuse has been putting on alt-holiday shows for years; first as part of the infamous lounge duo Kiki & Herb and now going solo at Joe’s Pub. Accompanied by Nath Ann Carrera on guitar and Claudia Chopek on violin, Mx. Bond mixes monologues and music that takes an acerbic look at this less than wonderful time of the year.
Wilfredo a Go Go! Holiday Special
The Slipper Room, December 17
The racy Lower East Side cabaret hosts a holiday spectacular with some of the City’s biggest names in burlesque, including Dirty Martini and Julie Atlas Muz. The show, hosted by the wacky lounge character Wilfredo, also promises gifts, surprises and some scintillating stockings.
BenDeLaCreme & Jinkx Monsoon: To Jesus, Thanks for Everything!
The Bell House, December 10 and 11
The drag duo famous for their stints on RuPaul’s Drag Race comes to Brooklyn’s Bell House for sugar, spice and a lot of eggnog. The two queens will deal with the stress of the holidays by putting on a really big gay show with lots of sass about each other and, the reason for the season, Jesus himself.
Christmas in Hell
The York Theatre Company, December 4–30
The title says it all. In this crazy musical comedy from the keyboard of composer Gary Apple (The Simpsons), an 8-year-old boy ends up in hell on Christmas Eve. His father, in an attempt to save his son, makes a deal with the devil that he can’t keep. Definitely leave Grandma at home for this one.