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10 of the best Christmas musicals

As if Christmas wasn’t bright and cheery enough without having a song and dance about it as well… Here's our rundown of the very best Christmas musicals on stage and screen.

Best Christmas musicals

Festive musicals are definitely a thing, but maybe they’re not as big a thing as you’d think, and perhaps don’t get the recognition they deserve. Here in the UK, the holidays mean Panto season, so an all-out Christmas musical is perhaps the last thing on our minds.

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That hasn’t stopped composers having a go at putting Christmas on Broadway and the West End, but it’s perhaps the musicals for the big screen that continue to be the most memorable. Who doesn’t love snuggling up with a cocoa to watch Michael Caine sing with The Muppets? More on them later.

Like with ‘regular’ musicals, the stage and screen have regularly fed off of each other, meaning there are Christmas musicals based on Christmas films based on musicals. Confused? Don’t worry, have another chocolate out of the tin and check out our pick of the very best Christmas musicals…

Best Christmas musicals

Dr Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas

(1966/94/2006)

Who wants to take over Christmas, when you can just steal it? Dr Seuss’s classic children’s book is a perennial favourite, adapted for the screen in 1966, 2000 and 2018. This stage musical made a brief appearance in the ’90s, making a slightly larger impact on Broadway in 2006/7, before being filmed for a TV special in 2020. The music and songs are by Mel Marvin, with lyrics by Timothy Mason. It utilises the the 1966 songs ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch’ and ‘Welcome, Christmas’, written by Albert Hague, with lyrics by Dr Seuss himself.

Best Song… ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch’

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The Nightmare Before Christmas

(1994)
If you’re one of those who like to start Christmas early, here’s a great one to get things going in October. That’s right, Tim Burton’s cult classic animated musical is set at Halloween and Christmas. Composer Danny Elfman wrote the songs and score for this dazzlingly dark tale about the King of Halloweentown, who decides he want to take over Christmas, too, and bring a little joy to his fellow ghouls.

Best Song… ‘What’s This?!’

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Scrooge

(1970/92)

The late composer/lyricist Leslie Bricusse adapted Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, creating this seminal seasonal musical in the process. Originally an Academy Award-nominated 1970 film starring Albert Finney in the title role, Bricusse returned to it in 1992 and reiomagined it as a stage production. The classic tale of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge was brought vividly to life on screen and stage, with the latter seen around the world in many touring productions.

Best Song… ‘Thank You Very Much’

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A Christmas Carol

(1994/2004)

Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin) turned his hand to Dickens for a new stage musical of the story in 1994. With lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, the show was an annual fixture at Madison Square Garden in New York City for a decade. It attracted some big names in the lead role, including F. Murray Abraham, Jim Dale, Roger Daltrey and Frank Langella. It was adapted into a TV movie in 2004, starring Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge. Concert performances of the show have also taken place since.

Best Song… ‘Christmas Together’

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The Muppet Christmas Carol

(1992)

The story is familiar, but the faces are a little fuzzier. Michael Caine stars as Scrooge in this memorable retelling of Dickens’s spooky festive tale. Gonzo the Great guides us through the story, which is peppered with toe-tapping songs by Oscar-winning songwriter/composer Paul Williams – a Muppet regular, having written Kermit’s classic ‘Rainbow Connection’.

Best Song… ‘One More Sleep ‘til Christmas’

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Elf

(2010)

Yes Elf is also a musical. This Broadway musical by Matthew Sklar and Chad Begulein is becoming a bit of a modern classic. Based on the uber-popular 2003 film of the same name, starring Will Ferrell, it tells the same story of Buddy – a human, raised by Elves who returns to New York to find his Dad.

Best Song… ‘Sparklejollytwinklejingley’

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Meet Me in St. Louis

(1944)

(1944)

Released in time for the US holidays in 1944, Meet Me in St. Louis isn’t only about Christmas. That said, this year in the life of the Smith family (1903/04), has Christmas at its heart and features what has become one of the most universally loved Christmas songs. ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ was written for the film by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, and is memorably performed by Judy Garland. She sings it it to her little sister, who is sad about moving to a new city and worried Santa won’t find them.

Best Song… ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’

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White Christmas

(1954/2000)
The title rather gives away the most famous song in this musical, though Irving Berlin didn’t write it for this. It actually featured in a 1942 film called Holiday Inn, but was brought back for this fully seasonal offering starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. A musical about Broadway stars putting on a show in a Vermont hotel at Christmas to help an old Army chum, it’s as charming, warm and funny as you’d expect. It also features the popular number ‘Sisters’. It was adapted for the stage in 2000.

Best Song… ‘White Christmas’ (obviously)

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The Polar Express

(2004)
Okay, so this isn’t wall-to-wall song and dance, but it has its moments… and some of them are a bit dark. Based on Chris van Allsburg’s children’s book of the same name, director Robert Zemeckis broke new ground with this film. Utilising the very latest performance capture technology, it was animation as audiences had never seen it before. Tom Hanks plays multiple roles in the story, which follows a mysterious/magical train that gives children the ride of their lives on one memorable Christmas night. The original songs are by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard.

Best Song… ‘When Christmas Comes To Town’

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Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

(1964)
This has become a bit of an institution in the US, where it has screened on television every year since it premiered in 1964. It of course tells the tale of everyone’s favourite reindeer – the one with the very shiny nose. That song is at the heart of the story, but it features a clutch of other numbers, also written by ‘Rudolph’ composer Johnny Marks, that have become synonymous with the season for millions.

Best Song… ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’

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Want to snuggle down and watch some of these Christmas musicals with the family? Then check out our sister title Your Home Style’s Christmas section for ideas and inspiration. Here are some of our favourites below

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Top image credit: Getty Images