The holidays are upon us, and while many see them as a time best appreciated by children, they also have special meaning for people of all ages. As Jerry Herman wrote (and Angela Lansbury so memorably sang in Mame), we all need a little Christmas! Several theater artists recall most cherished -- and not-so-cherished -- holiday memories.
Laura Benanti (Tony winner and four nominations; two Drama Desk Awards; currently in Meteor Shower)
My favorite Christmas was when I was 10 and I was beginning to doubt there really was a Santa Claus. Christmas Eve, on the way to church, we were driving through the winding New Jersey hills and a huge deer with giant antlers leapt out and stared straight at us! Needless to say, after that I believed.
Michael Feinstein (Five-time Grammy nominee; Drama Desk Special Award)
It was New Year's Eve, and I was performing at San Francisco's Plush Room at the start of my solo career. Two friends brought a venerable Oscar-winning actress, who was seated at the footlights and thus practically a part of the show due to her gesticulations of delight throughout. She was kind and supportive at the start, but after 30 minutes she was in a drunken stupor and began heckling me -- yelling "get off the stage, you're terrible"! The audience was suddenly witnessing a train wreck and I was devastated. The great lady then passed out and was ushered out to the relief of both performer and audience. After that ordeal, I received one of my greatest ovations (for bravery and valor); and I had a few belts myself!
Chad Kimball (Tony nominee, Memphis; currently: Come from Away)
My entire family was flying in to spend Christmas when I was on Broadway in Good Vibrations. Then, on Christmas Eve, Dad was rush to the hospital. He had quadruple heart bypass surgery. Everyone, but Mom made it in. It certainly wasn’t the Christmas we expected. We were in constant touch. Thankfully, Dad came through with flying colors. That Christmas reminded me of the great bond I have with my family, and how we are always there for each other through good and bad.
Growing up, Liza [Minnelli] Joey [Luft] and I had Christmas everywhere — different houses, different cultures, different countries. Mama [Judy Garland] adored Christmas, and made it awesome no matter the circumstances. Those were truly wonderful times I cherish. But my favorite holiday memories are with my children, Jesse and Vanessa. Christmas is about giving, not receiving. When they were old enough to understand what Christmas is about, my husband Colin and I took them shopping, but to buy gifts for those not as fortunate. We’d go to the shelters in Los Angeles and distribute them. The smiling faces of those who thought they would have nothing brought us the true meaning of the season.
Donna Murphy (Two-time Tony winner; three-time Drama Desk winner; currently, alternating weekly in Hello, Dolly!)
The best holiday memory was our first Christmas with our (with late husband Shawn Elliott) almost teen daughter Darmia Hope. She was almost nine months and in a constant state of wonder. It was absolutely contagious! I remember her first Christmas and her amazement as we decorated. That year, and each since, she received an ornament that’s related to something special that year. When she has her own tree, she’ll have a meaningful collection of treasures and memories.
Chita Rivera (two-time Tony winner and nine nominations; two-time Drama Desk nominee)
The family home was over 200 years old. Do I love Christmas? It was always decorated with poinsettias inside and out, front and back. We’d have three trees with lights and ornaments. Returning from Christmas Eve mass, we open our gifts. [Daughter] Lisa would play Christmas music. We’d get the youngest of my brother’s grandchildren to distribute the gifts. We love to cook, and would work for days on the dinner. It’s traditional – in a not-so-traditional way. The turkey is stuffed with oysters, herbs, and, to absorb the juices, cornbread. (Sister) Lola and I basted the bird with mayonnaise and (Spanish spice) sazon. Then, there’d be all the trimmings: string bean casserole and sweet potatoes with bourbon and topped with marshmallows; and, in case anyone wanted dessert, corn pudding. After the holidays, when anyone would say, “I lost 10 pounds!”, I’d reply, “I found them!”
Lea Salonga (Olivier, Tony, and Drama Desk Awards; currently in Once on This Island)
My best memories got back to the time my brother and I were young. We didn’t have a lot, but Mom somehow managed to have tons of food: chicken, potato salad, baked ham, ambrosia , hot chocolate and, for starters, pigs in a blanket. Looking back, I loved Christmas because our celebration was utter simplicity and quiet. In fact, I can’t ever recall ever having a bad Christmas!
Mary Testa (Two-time Tony nominee; Special Drama Desk Award, and five nominations)
One of my favorite memories was in 1980. I was in my mid-20s, and appearing on Broadway in Barnum. I love my family Christmases. We are Italian, and always have a dinner with seven kinds of fish. Afterwards, we opened our presents. Christmas day was always just a lovely, relaxing day. But the day after Christmas there were two shows, and the schedule didn’t permit time to go home to Rhode Island. I was alone and feeling very bad for myself. I had a nine-inch black-and-white TV. I’d never seen It’s a Wonderful Life. It was on. I sat riveted to the screen, drinking some port, and crying. It was one of the best Christmases ever!