All the Best Holiday Shows in NYC: From Nice to Naughty

Brian Sloan

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.

Rockettes. Courtesy, MSG

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. Photo: Paul Kolnik

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. Photo: Mark Hill

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.

Handel’s Messiah at the New York Philharmonic. Photo: Chris Lee

Handel’s Messiah

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. Courtesy, Hulu Theater @ Madison Square Garden

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 Swinging with the Season. Photo: Nella Vera

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. Courtesy, Broadway Theatre Studio

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. Photo: Karl Giant

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. Photo: Jess T Dugan

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.