Cabaret That Skewers Holiday Clichés

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Rachel Syme
Staff writer

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In April, the Library of Congress made its annual selection of twenty-five songs to preserve as part of the National Recording Registry. In order for a song to make the archive, it must demonstrate “cultural, historical or aesthetic importance in the nation’s recorded sound heritage”—so it makes total sense that Mariah Carey’s 1994 holiday bop “All I Want for Christmas Is You” made the cut. Nearly thirty years after the song emerged, it continues to own the seasonal aesthetics in this country. (See: the dozens of memes about the fact that the track becomes ubiquitous between Halloween and New Year’s.) Carey herself is all in on the joke; for the past few years, on Nov. 1, she has posted a whimsical video on social media announcing the return of #MariahSZN. (This year’s showed Carey breaking out of a block of solid ice, squealing, “It’s Tiiiiime!,” while wearing a spandex Santa suit.) The gag is not new, and yet I admit that I cannot truly get into the holiday spirit until I hear the dulcet tones of the song’s glockenspiel intro. This winter, Carey is fully leaning into her Queen Frostine status by putting on a North American arena tour called “Merry Christmas One and All!” She stops by Madison Square Garden on both Dec. 9 and Dec. 17, with a set list that includes “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” and “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home).”

Photograph by Gilbert Flores / Getty

There is so much to do in New York City around the holidays, and much of it is cheesy as hell. But if there is any time to embrace your inner cornball, it is the season of popcorn garlands and latke grease. Channel your inner Carey and give in. Do a silly thing this year. Here is a random selection (in no particular order) of festive December events: the Feast of Seven Fishes dinner at Roman’s, in Fort Greene (Dec. 23); the Brooklyn Chamber Orchestra and New York Choral Society’s “A Very Merry Brooklyn” concert at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity (Dec. 16); a pop-up bar called Miracle on 9th Street that is open only in November and December and serves a drink with minty amaro and coco pandan called the Christmas Cricket; Shalom Japan’s annual Miyazaki Films and Hot Pot dinners (Dec. 24-25); the actor John Kevin Jones’s legendary “A Christmas Carol” recitation at the Merchant’s House (through Dec. 24); a pop-up holiday tiki bar called Grinchy’s, in Bushwick; Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp’s very funny “A Gay Show for All People Christmas Spooktacular,” at the Bell House (Dec. 20-21); the New York Pops’ annual Christmas show, at Carnegie Hall, this year featuring the baritone Norm Lewis (Dec. 22-23); a creepy “Krampus”-themed pop-up bar in Brooklyn for all the holiday goths (Someday Bar, through Dec. 31); the Celtic “Pipes of Christmas” extravaganza (Madison Avenue Presbyterian, Dec.16); “Lightscape,” at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (through Jan. 1); “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” at Film Forum (Dec. 17); and Ralph Lauren’s holiday-themed coffee truck at Rockefeller Center.

Go make Mariah proud.


Illustration by Maria-Ines GulCabaret

The snug music-and-dinner venue Joe’s Pub has a sweet-and-salty lineup for audiences who want to mark the holidays with a tweak to the season’s perpetual wonder and sincerity. Justin Vivian Bond (Dec. 19-21) and Sandra Bernhard (Dec. 26-31), master storytellers at the intersection of mordant comedy and song, share deadpan anecdotes from family life and festivities past. Julia Mattison and Joel Waggoner, the unhinged parodists behind the Instagram account Advent Carolndar, skewer holiday clichés with note-perfect mimicries of Stephen Sondheim and Christian pop (Dec. 21-22). Murray Hill, the professional nice guy whose optimism lifts the HBO series “Somebody Somewhere” (Dec. 12-16), and Eva Noblezada, who takes audiences to her own “Winter Delululand” (Dec. 18-20), round out the offerings.—Oussama Zahr

About Town

Off Broadway

The Tony Award-winning Gavin Creel’s “Walk On Through: Confessions of a Museum Novice” started as a commission by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to respond to its galleries; it’s since developed into a hundred-minute, seventeen-song cycle, directed by Linda Goodrich, heavy on the slides. The charm-juggernaut Creel cracks wise—“Hey! Look! I’m believing in art / Am I smart?”—and boings around, pogoing over his piano, growing sombre about a breakup, then exploding again with lust for, say, classical sculpture. (One marble butt gets a “Boop!”) The overlong autobiographical stuff doesn’t always hang convincingly alongside his Met observations, but amid the welter of material several songs glow: gilded moments of sympathy, when his careful ear seems to hear something in the paint.—Helen Shaw (Robert W. Wilson MCC Theatre Space; through Jan. 7.)

Experimental Music

For more than forty years, the sound composer William Basinski has experimented with antiquated audio machinery, primarily tape decks; with the album “Shortwavemusic,” from 1998, Basinski began to release recordings from his archive of stirring electronic music. “The Disintegration Loops” (2002-03) assembled and recorded degraded tape loops that deteriorated further as they played. His work since has only deepened his affinity for distortion, as in “On Time Out of Time” (2019), which samples audio of two black holes merging. Basinski and the ambient artist claire rousay perform in collaboration with the string duo LEYA.—Sheldon Pearce (Pioneer Works; Dec. 14.)


“The Ride,” 2023.

Art work © Dana Schutz / Courtesy the artist / David Zwirner

The grotesque is timeless, boundless, and—best of all—shameless. Maybe that explains the charisma of Dana Schutz, whose recent paintings and sculptures are the subject of “Jupiter’s Lottery,” one of this year’s most pungently memorable exhibitions. Her art is often described as allegorical, though in most of these images the meanings and symbols get tied up in knots. In the painting “Parrots” (2023), three grinning, goblinlike beachgoers seem too dazzled by bright plumage to figure out what it all means. Do we have a better idea? Does Schutz, even? Perhaps not, but beauty isn’t such a bad consolation prize when understanding is out of the question, and Schutz’s art has the ghastly beauty of a swollen purple bruise.—Jackson Arn (Zwirner; through Dec. 16.)


The charismatic tenor Rolando Villazón, who’s in town for the Metropolitan Opera’s “Magic Flute,” and the harpist Xavier de Maistre revisit their album, “Serenata Latina,” for Lincoln Center’s “The Other Side of the Stars” series. After de Maistre gave a performance of Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto, a work of dreaminess and rhythmic alacrity, in the early two-thousands, Ginastera’s widow suggested that de Maistre transcribe the Argentine composer’s songs for the harp. Villazón and de Maistre’s adaptations retain the tenderness and the dash of Ginastera’s traditional and folk-inspired melodies, alongside settings of works by other Latin American composers.—Oussama Zahr (Alice Tully Hall; Dec. 18.)


Photograph by Em Watson

Beatboxers make music with their mouths. Tap dancers do it with their feet. In “Bzzz,” those two tribes of bodily instrumentalists find common ground and join forces, the champion beatboxers Chris Celiz and Gene Shinozaki laying down astonishing layers of sound as Caleb Teicher and an expert crew of metal-shod dancers drum the stage. It’s a high-energy show, full of surprises, such as the pairing of a four-on-the-floor club beat with kick-up-your-heels Appalachian flatfooting. The title alludes to the low vibrations that the beatboxers send through amplifiers, but it also signals the spirit of the production: unafraid to be goofy in pursuit of happiness and its hum.—Brian Seibert (Joyce Theatre; Dec. 12-17.)


A new streaming service, the Kino Film Collection, offers a wide range of classics (including “Ganja and Hess”) and recent treasures (such as “Li’l Quinquin”). It also offers such delightful eccentricities as “The Girl on a Motorcycle,” an erotic extravagance from 1968, starring Marianne Faithfull as Rebecca, a former bookstore clerk who lives in France with her husband, a dull schoolteacher, while lusting after a flashy intellectual (Alain Delon) with whom she had a brief yet fiery affair. Though set in Europe, the movie is an icon of swinging England; it’s centered on Rebecca’s dreams, fantasies, and memories—especially of sexual pleasure, which the director and cinematographer, Jack Cardiff, depicts in hot-colored psychedelic abstractions. The camera pays close attention both to Faithfull’s skin and to Delon’s, but its lascivious focus is on Rebecca’s Harley-Davidson—and her leather body suit, which became an instant fashion statement.—Richard Brody

Pick Three

The staff writer Rachel Syme shares her favorite winter movies.

1. Inevitably, around this time of year, people gather on the Internet to debate what counts as a “Christmas movie.” Among the criteria: a frigid winter setting, stylish coats, and an atmosphere of loneliness tempered by glowy bonhomie. Though Robert Altman’s 1971 epic, “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”—about a cocky gambler (Warren Beatty) and a pragmatic prostitute (Julie Christie) who become business partners in a turn-of-the-century mining town—is not about Christmas in any way, it still heralds the season for me: the fur pelts, the dramatic snow drifts, the general sense of human hubris in the face of nature’s icy inhospitality.

2. Every December, I find myself yearning to rewatch Todd Haynes’s 2015 thriller, “Carol,” about a mid-century shopgirl named Therese (Rooney Mara) who enters into a clandestine relationship with a glamorous older woman named Carol (Cate Blanchett). The two meet while Carol is Christmas shopping, but what really makes the film holiday fare is its stylish evocation of a cold, bygone Manhattan where Martinis were considered a lunch food and women still wore driving gloves.

Photograph by Mary Cybulski / Fox Searchlight Pictures / Everett

3. Marielle Heller’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” from 2018, about a real-life writer, Lee Israel, who was arrested in the nineties for forging and selling letters she attributed to famous authors, is, to my mind, a perfect December film. Melissa McCarthy plays Israel—a lonesome misanthrope who nurses highballs at the Greenwich Village gay bar Julius’ on frosty evenings—with caustic empathy; her relationship with the rapscallion scammer Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) may be criminal, but it is also heart-thawing.

P.S. Good stuff on the Internet:

  • “59 Teeny-Tiny Gifts”
  • Cillian Murphy and Margot Robbie Discuss Barbenheimer
  • A Recipe for Eggnog-ish Tiramisu


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