Midtown Traditions



A scene from George Balantine’s production of Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker” at the New York City Ballet. Photo by Paul Kolnik.


Midtown West is rich in holiday traditions that are always evolving.  This year, you can go to Rockefeller Center to see the 80-foot-high Christmas tree, the 80th in this longstanding tradition – or ring in the New Year with a first-time swing concert in the Allen Room at the Time Warner Center, hosted by Jazz at Lincoln Center.  There is something for everyone.  See below for our list of holiday events in Midtown West.

A scene from Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.


The Met’s family-friendly “Barber”:

Beginning Dec. 18 and running until Jan. 5, the Metropolitan Opera will present Bartlett Sher’s production of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” an abridged, English-language version of the popular opera designed to be more accessible to young families. The two-hour production marks the fifth time the Met has offered this type of family-friendly event since Peter Gelb became General Manager in 2006.

The Metropolitan Opera prepares for “Maria Stuarda.” Photo: Andrew Bell.


There’s Something About Mary:

The Metropolitan Opera, which has performed on New Year’s Eve since 1933, hosts the company premiere of Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda” at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 31.  Dating from 1835 and based on the Friedrich Schiller play from 1800, the opera tells the story of Mary Queen of Scots, cousin to England’s Queen Elizabeth I, who was later executed by her cousin for her dubious association with a high profile assassination plot against the Queen.  The opera stars the mezzo-soprano Joyce Didonato, who specializes in early 19th century opera and was the first classical singer to perform at the Grammys in 2012.  The work is part of Donzetti’s Three Queens Trilogy, a triptych of operas based on the lives of Anne Boleyn, Mary Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor, and is directed by Sir David McVicar, who returns to the Met after directing the first part of the trilogy in 2011.

“Les Miserables” movie poster. Photo: Gregory Moomjy.

“Les Mis” Gets Celebrity Treatment:

Les Misérables, the film version of the 1980 musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, comes to movie theaters on Christmas Day, with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, and an English translation by Herbert Kretzmer. The film, directed by “The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper, stars Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway in the story of French peasant Jean Valjean, who finds himself in the midst of a revolution in the early 19th century.

The AMC Loews Lincoln Square will have showings on Christmas Day at 11:10 a.m., 3 p.m., 6:45 p.m., and 10:30 p.m..   The AMC Loews 34th Street will have showings on Christmas Day at 11:30 a.m., 3:15 p.m., 7 p.m., and 10:40 p.m.


Avery Fisher Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic. Photo: Gregory Moomjy.

The Way He Was:

The New York Philharmonic’s New Year’s Eve Concert, a tradition which dates back to 1898, will be a tribute to songwriter Marvin Hamlisch, who died this August at age 68. Hamlisch, a child prodigy, was admitted to Manhattan’s Julliard School of Music for piano studies at age ten.  His catalog of hits include the musical “A Chorus Line,” the song “The Way We Were,” and the movie “Funny Girl,” his 1968 collaboration with Barbara Streisand.  The Philharmonic will be conducted by its music director, Alan Gilbert, and singer Josh Groban will perform.


A scene from the Salute to Vienna Concert. Photo: SaluteToVienna.com.

Waltzes and Polkas:

On New Year’s Day, the Strauss Symphony of America offers a concert entitled “A Salute to Vienna” at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, modeled after the famous New Year’s concerts given by the Vienna Philharmonic at the historic Musikverein concert hall in Vienna.   This tradition was started by conductor Clemens Krauss, who also collaborated with Richard Strauss on his final opera, “Capriccio,” in 1942;  The first New Year’s Eve concert was on Dec 31, 1939, and the first New Year’s Day concert was on Jan 1, 1941. Like its Austrian counterpart, the New York concert will showcase waltzes and polkas composed by Johan Strauss Jr., the renowned Viennese “Waltz King.”


Big Bands’ Silver Anniversary Concert:

Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Big Band Holiday Concerts, a tradition since 1989, will  occur on Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. and at 8 p.m., featuring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with its music director Wynton Marsalis, joined by vocalists René Marie and Gregory Porter. Additionally, Jazz at Lincoln Center continues celebrating its 25th anniversary with the first annual swing dance concert entitled “Ring in the Swing,” on New Year’s Eve at 8:30 p.m. at the Allen Room, located on the 5th floor of the Times Warner Center at Broadway and West 60th Street.  The Harlem Renaissance Orchestra performs music by jazz legends Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Earl ”Fatha” Hines, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman.


A scene from The Big Apple Circus. Photo: Bertrand Guay of The Big Apple Circus.

Big Apple Circus Clowns Around Lincoln Center:

The Big Apple Circus returns to Lincoln Center, where it has spent the holiday season since 1980.  This one-ring circus, where no seats are more than 50 feet away from the action, has a long history on America’s pop culture scene, from Woody Allen’s 1990 movie “Alice” to Britney Spears’ 2008 world tour, called The Circus Starring Britney Spears.  The organization also does a lot of charity work – its Circus of the Senses, founded in 1987, is tailored to the needs of the hearing and visually impaired.  Paul Binder, the circus’s founder, gives a play-by-play description for the blind audience members, while sign language interpreters assist the hard of hearing.


“The Nutcracker”:

The New York City Ballet’s presentation of Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet “The Nutcracker,” choreographed by George Balanchine, began on Nov 23 at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theatre and runs through Dec. 30.  This holiday classic premiered on Feb 2, 1954 and is seen by 100,000 people annually.  In “The New York Times’” review of this year’s production, Alastair Macaulay, pointed out that certain aspects of the show, such as Clara’s flying bed, are unique to Balanchine’s staging.  The production requires 250 musicians and dancers – 100 of whom are children, chosen from the official school of the New York City Ballet.  The production also includes a one-ton Christmas tree that grows from 12 to 40 feet on stage.  The finale requires one million watts of lighting, the most used in any New York City Ballet production.


Radio City Music Hall. Photo: Sarah Jane.

Almost 80, and Still Kicking:

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, a holiday season staple since 1933 featuring the Rockettes, began on Nov. 9 and will run until Dec. 30. The production now features the largest flying indoor LED screen in the country, measuring 27 feet by 53 feet.   The Rockettes require eight costume changes per show and use 15,000 red dots to brighten their cheeks each season.


The Grinch and Cindy Lou Who in the New York City production of “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas!” in the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Photo Credit: Running Subway.


From Silver Screen to Broadway:

This holiday season, “The Grinch,” “Elf,” and “A Christmas Story” all jump from the movie screen to the stage.   “The Grinch”  comes to The Theater at Madison Square Garden from Dec. 13 to Dec. 30, directed by Matt August.  “Elf” will be on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre from Nov. 9 through Jan. 6, 2013, directed by Casey Nicholaw  and starring Wayne Knight, of the television sitcoms “Seinfeld” and “3rd Rock from the Sun.” “A Christmas Story” features music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul in their Broadway debuts. The show will run at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre until Dec. 29.


The Festival of (Very Big) Lights:

The World’s Largest Menorah, located at West 59th Street and Fifth Avenue at Central Park’s Grand Army Plaza, will be lit on Dec 8, the first night of Hanukkah this year.   Latkes, which are potato pancakes, and sufganiyot, kosher jelly donuts, will be available for purchase. The 32-foot high, 4,000 pound menorah is the work of Israeli artist Yaacov Agam and is an oil candelabrum whose lamps are protected from the wind by specially designed glass chimneys.  It can only be lit by standing on a cherry picker.   The Menorah has been lit by several New York mayors, including Abraham Beame and Ed Koch.  This year, Michael Bloomberg continues the tradition.


Sing Out:

Handel’s “Messiah” is a holiday favorite in New York City.  This year, the tradition of presenting regular performances and the Sing-In continues as the National Chorale returns to Avery Fisher Hall for its 45th season. The group will also present Beethoven’s 9th Symphony which contains “The Ode to Joy,” and Orff’s “Carmina Burana” which contains the chorus “O Fortuna.”   “The Messiah” also will be presented in standard performances on Dec. 17, 20, and 23 at 8 p.m. as well as a 2 p.m. show on Dec. 23 by The Masterwork Chorus and Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.   The New York Philharmonic offers its performances at Avery Fisher Hall from Dec. 18 to the 22 at 7:30 p.m. in collaboration with The New York Choral Artists.


Churches around the city, including St. Mary’s, are getting ready for the Christmas season. Photo: Sarah Jane.


Religious Tradition:

Christmas Eve, which falls on a Monday this year, prompts various special religious services related to Advent, the month-long preparation Christians make for Christmas.   Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, an iconic 133-year-old New York City church and national landmark on Fifth Avenue, offers a Midnight Mass service presided over by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, as well as a Blessing of the Children Virgil mass at 5:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Other Midtown West Catholic churches include Saint Mary the Virgin Times Square, with services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and caroling at 5 p.m. on the first Sunday after Christmas Day. Saint Francis of Assisi, on West 31st Street, is also the National Shrine of Saint Anthony, and offers services in Korean.  St. Francis church had a Night Worker’s Mass that was instituted in 1904 for workers who could not attend Mass during the day on Sundays, stopped once the Saturday Vigil Masses began in the 1970’s.  Their Christmas Day and Eve masses are at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m.