Musicals dominate the holiday season

From movie screens to your TV, classic musicals like 'Into the Woods' and 'Peter Pan' are everywhere this holiday season. What makes that format a good fit for the end of the year? 

Peter Mountain/Disney Enterprises
'Into the Woods'

Catchy carols have long been a part of the holiday season, but this December you might find yourself humming a Broadway tune instead.

For the past decade, it seems as though year-end entertainment has been taken over by movie adaptations of classic musicals. Some, such as “The Producers” (2005) and “Nine” (2009), haven’t done well at the box office or with critics, but there have been enough blockbusters, such as “Dreamgirls” (2006) and “Les Misérables” (2012), that Hollywood keeps trying. This December both a remake of “Annie” and a film adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical “Into the Woods” are highly anticipated at theaters.

And it’s not just happening on the silver screen. Last year NBC undertook the challenge of “The Sound of Music Live!,” which featured country star Carrie Underwood in the role of Maria von Trapp. Despite the comparisons to the much-loved 1965 movie classic, the live broadcast was a smash. So NBC tried again this year with “Peter Pan Live!” starring Allison Williams (of HBO’s “Girls”) and Christopher Walken on Dec. 4. The network has already announced plans are under way for a live broadcast of “The Music Man.” While not officially on the holiday schedule for 2015, it seems likely NBC will continue to build on the success of its previous year-end programming. 

Suffolk University theater department chair and Boston Music Theatre Project founding director Marilyn Plotkins says the shows’ familiar stories are a factor in holiday programming. “These musicals are like comfort food,” Ms. Plotkins says.

In addition, while some musicals that have come to theaters are more cynical with darker themes, the positive messages of stories like “Annie” fit well with the holiday season focus of looking at the good in the world.

“They draw on this very deep need to feel hopeful,” Plotkins says.

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