The Musical Theater Project just closed its 15th annual “Christmas Cabaret” with sold-out performance at Edwin Too on Shaker Square—and once again audiences were surprised to hear an often-forgotten fact revealed by NANCY MAIER, NATALIE GREEN and JOE MONAGHAN.
Namely, that most of our best-loved Christmas songs—from “White Christmas” to “The Christmas Song” to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” were penned by Jewish American songwriters. Oh, everybody knows about Irving Berlin—the quintessential Jewish immigrant—and his “White Christmas,” but not so much when it comes to Mel Torme’s “roasting chestnuts” and Johnny Marks’s “shiny-nosed” four-legged one.
In our show, I call it a cultural phenemenon!
And that’s to say nothing of composer Jule Styne. Styne is the Funny Girl and Gypsy guy, of course, but of the songwriters whose work comprises the Great American Songbook, he also the major Christmas-song guy.
With fellow Jewish American Sammy Cahn he wrote “The Christmas Waltz” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” But Styne also wrote no less than three Christmas musicals for television: “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” (1962 – from which we performed the beautiful “Winter Was Warm”), Liza Minnelli’s The Dangerous Christmas of Little Red Riding Hood (1965) and The Night the Animals Talked (1970).
I had the privilege of interviewing Styne near the end of his life, and this is what he told me about his attraction to the holiday season: “Look, Christmas is the time of year when Americans want to sing more songs and hear more song than at any other time. And it’s a season about love. How could I not want to be part of that?”