Updated: Jan 27
Old-fashioned showtunes may be exactly what redeems screentime this Christmas.
As we approach a different holiday season from ones past, some of us may be feeling disappointed not to be gathering around the table with extended family members, enjoying favorite pastimes with friends, or going on a winter trip. Although my family is staying put, I am choosing to embrace the opportunity to curl up on the couch with my boys and let some timeless family musical favorites transport us to happy places in my past -- and soon, their futures. Please join me in cozying up under a blanket with a warm cup of tea and some snuggly kids, and dive into some classic musicals! They will not only give you plenty of fodder to talk about over hot cocoa, but they just might become part of the fabric of your holiday traditions to come.
To be clear, we’re not just talking about High School Musical or The Greatest Showman.
Terry Teachout, the theater critic at the Wall Street Journal, recently wrote an excellent piece that underscored the importance of continuing to watch the classics. He lamented the fact that high schools are no longer performing many of them, instead opting for shows such as The Addams Family, Mamma Mia!, Seussical, and Little Shop of Horrors. Teachout argued that these childhood-to-teenage experiences “will have a powerful influence on the [shows kids will] want to see on Broadway 10 years from now -- or 40,” and noted, “What’s conspicuously missing from the new list are the golden-age Broadway musicals that dominated [Broadway] as late as the ’90s. Bye Bye Birdie, Guys and Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof, The Music Man, Oklahoma! . . . [which are], it seems, . . . vanishing into the memory hole of changing taste. . . . it would seem that the great musicals of the past—the classic shows from Oklahoma! to Fiddler that defined the genre—are unknown to the rising generation of Americans.”
Let’s all do our part not to have these timeless shows become unknown, and to affirmatively add these musicals to our family’s movie night list. After all, the movies that kids watch make imprints on how they view the world. Thoughtfully choosing movies that have characters who embody our values is important. If that isn’t motivation enough, listening to and singing music is great for developing kids’ brains: from releasing dopamine, to creating powerful nostalgic connections as their brains grow. Children will have these musicals as a positive memory throughout their lives -- hey, they’ve become known as “classics” for good reason -- which makes the choice of our music even more important.
Here are three of our very favorite choices we treasured as kids, and love even more as adults:
Mary Poppins: Want to talk with your children about women's suffrage? Or about the impact other caregivers can have on children's development? Need help getting your kids to take their medicine? Mary Poppins isn’t just the favorite movie of Stacy from The Baby-Sitters Club, it’s a musical with endless lessons that will resonate with every kid and adult. The songs have become a part of our cultural conversation, from “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” to “Spoonful of Sugar.” I never fail to tear up at Julie Andrews singing “Feed the Birds” about the old woman outside the cathedral. No parent’s heart will be untouched by George Banks’s evolution as a father. He starts the movie with the parenting philosophy is to “pat them on the head / And send them off to bed,” and he seeks a nanny who will be a “general” and “can give commands.” He ultimately learns from Mary Poppins the joy of imagination, kindness, and really listening to his kids. Who can forget the end of the movie when he leaves work to “go fly a kite” with Jane and Michael!
The Sound of Music: Although The Sound of Music is not a holiday movie, I remember it being shown every December growing up, so I always associate it with the Christmas season. Like Mary Poppins, this movie never gets old for me, despite having watched it dozens of times: from when I first saw it at the same age as Gretl (5), to identifying with Liesel as a teenager (16 going on 17), to now being older than Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer when they filmed the movie (he was only 36!). Also like Mary Poppins, every song is a classic, from “My Favorite Things” to “Do-Re-Mi” to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” (the perfect song to celebrate perseverance). Young children will delight in the fun exploits of the young children, from the marionette show to the boating escapades. When the time is right, the movie can also provide a helpful starting point to have tough but important conversations about World War II and Nazism. You might also find yourself having chats with your spouse about different parenting styles and the evolution of Captain Von Trapp. You will never cease to be inspired by Maria’s desire to understand God’s will for her life, and the words from the Mother Superior can resonate with all of us: “Maria, these walls were not built to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live.”
The Music Man: Yet another movie with a soundtrack of uniformly perfect songs, from “Seventy-Six Trombones” to “‘Till There Was You” (the only song from a musical The Beatles ever covered), this movie and its music entranced me as a child. With soft humor, the story tells of Harold Hill in River City, Iowa and his unexpected love story with (equally stubborn) Marian the Librarian. A more innocent turn-of-the-twentieth-century America is depicted beautifully, and our hearts melt at Harold, just as Marian’s does. You can watch the classic original 1962 version with Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, or the 2003 version starring Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth.
Take a look at Common Sense Media for reviews of numerous other kid-friendly musicals (with age recommendations), from Hello, Dolly! to The King and I, from The Wizard of Oz to Singin’ in the Rain. We shudder to think how the Left today might want to “woke-ify” these classic musicals, but fortunately the Primerrily community knows how and why to queue up these originals on movie night for what they can teach our children about different historical times and places.
As Tevye sings in the opening number of Fiddler, “Without tradition, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.” Let’s keep musicals, and their music, the backdrop of our lives.
What are some of your favorites? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know!
A.J. Grey is a lawyer, mother, and leader in several civic organizations. Her favorite American value is equality, of people and of opportunity.