Every day this December, Playbill will be getting into the spirit of the season with 31 Days of Holiday Cheer—sharing some of our favorite music videos from Broadway stars. Check in daily for classic tunes and new songs about Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year's. And we even have some surprise new, original Playbill videos to share.
The holidays are not only a season of joy, but of reflection as well, and can sometimes be somber. Perhaps the most beloved Christmas song born from this kind of bittersweet contemplation is "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which, in its original lyrics (as sung by Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis), narrates a quiet determination to make the most of the holidays during tough times—even if one must "muddle through."
Though the more common radio versions of the song omit that sentiment, Harmony star Julie Benko opted for the original lyrics in her own recording of the song, now released through her first-ever holiday EP, Christmas With You.
With a principal role on Broadway, a devoted fanbase, and another EP release, Benko is on top of the world. But the inclusion of a more somber holiday song also suits this moment for Benko, as each night she portrays a character yearning for home and a better future.
"Telling the story of Harmony feels so important at this time. It provides catharsis and healing for a lot of people. I hope my holiday EP can do the same," said Benko to Playbill.
Benko stopped by Playbill Studios to give an exclusive performance of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," so that Playbill readers and fans can share that moment of emotional release through the performance. Watch it in the video above.
Benko's personal history with the song began with her first time singing it onstage in her high school production of Meet Me in St. Louis, playing Garland's character, Esther. (Benko actually shared footage of the performance with Playbill, click here to see what is now a little piece of theatre history.) "Playing opposite me in the scene was Kathryn Laudadio—a freshman when I was a senior. This moment felt sacred between the two of us. Tragically, she passed away only a few years later," Benko says.
Now, all these years later, Benko still feels a connection to her memory and that moment through this song, which will now live forever through her recording. "Whenever I sing this song, I envision her big brown eyes looking up at me once again. I dedicate this song to her memory, and to the memories of all loved ones who are no longer with us," shares Benko.
Benko's holiday EP—produced by herself, alongside husband Jason Yeager—also includes a jazzy rendition of "The Man With the Bag," the classic Yiddish folk song "Tumbalalaika," and her own original song, the titular "(I Never Had a) Christmas With You." Benko collaborated with Mykal Kilgore to create the new holiday song, which reflects on her first experience with Christmas through the eyes of her relationship with Yeager. Though Benko has penned numerous jazz songs, the work marks her first holiday tune.
"This process was actually pretty similar to my other songwriting, in that I got the inspiration while on the subway," says Benko. "I was on the way to Funny Girl when the melody came into my head. I started singing into the voice memos of my phone so I wouldn't forget it."
Once Benko began considering a release for the song, she couldn't get Kilgore's voice out of her head when thinking about who to partner with. "Mykal and I met a number of years ago doing a reading of a new musical at NYU's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. I just knew he'd be perfect," she says. Their collaboration also spurred from a moment on the subway: "I was about to send him an email to invite him to record with me when I ran into him on the subway...he accepted on the spot," she recalls.
At the end of an exciting year for Benko's career—departing from her role as the Fanny alternate in Funny Girl and entering Harmony—the star reflects with gratitude. "It makes for busy days, but I like that! I am just so grateful to be working as an actor and to be sharing my artistic voice with the community right now," she says.
To stream Benko's holiday EP Christmas With You, visit here.