Dee Snider wants to be the new Dickens. "This is a starting point for a franchise, we hope," the Twisted Sister frontman tells me about his new stage show, Dee Snider's Rock & Roll Christmas Tale, which begins performances this week at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. "Like A Christmas Carol or A Christmas Story, we want this to be a perennial, we want it to be a licensed show that'll be in multiple cities," he continues on a recent morning at Loyola University's Centennial Forum, his ever-present sunglasses in place and his blond mane pulled back into a ponytail.
The Chicago production stars Snider as narrator—though he thinks the role could eventually be filled by any number of rock personalities with the proper bona fides—alongside a cast of local actors. "The premise is that you all know Däisy Cütter, the world's greatest heavy metal Christmas band; well, here's the story of how they came to be," Snider says, grinning. Snider also steps into the story at one point, playing "the exorcist…Gotta reiterate: family show. 7 to 70. They're possessed by Christmas."
We've just seen a brief performance by "Däisy Cütter," a.k.a. actors Adam Michaels (Roger in Paramount Theatre's Rent), Tommy Hahn, Dan Peters and Wilam Tarris, in the adjacent Mullady Theatre, where the show is rehearsing. The mashup of Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" with "O Come All Ye Faithful" sounds surprisingly natural; Snider self-deprecatingly jokes that it's because "turns out, I stole the chord progression from 'O Come All Ye Faithful.'" (Check out a video clip below.)
The genial rocker, perhaps better known in recent years for his stints on reality TV shows like Celebrity Apprentice, Celebrity Wife Swap "and every other show that has the word Celebrity in front of it," he says with a big laugh, comes by his love of holiday fare honestly. The father of four with his wife of 33 years, Suzette, describes himself as "a big holiday guy, taking the family every year on a trip to the city—see a show, see the tree, go see Santa."
After taking the kids to see Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular one year, "my then 12-year-old son said, 'Dad, that show made me hate Christmas.' So that was thing one, like, maybe it's a little long in the tooth, maybe it doesn't speak to a new generation." And he notes that Twisted Sister put out a Christmas album, 2006's A Twisted Christmas, "against everybody's better advice, and it's one of our biggest selling albums we ever had."
Rock & Roll Christmas Tale began as an idea for a concept album, "with the idea that Twisted would perform it, sort of like Pink Floyd did The Wall, where they were another band in the show." During a 2010 stint performing in Broadway's Rock of Ages, the ’80s jukebox musical that counts Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock" among its tunes, Snider showed his proposal to that show's associate director, Adam John Hunter.
"I asked him to take a look at it, give me some notes," Snider says. "He came back and said, 'A, I want to direct this, and B, it's a musical. It needs to be fleshed out, but it's more than a concept album.'"
Producer John Yonover, who's Chicago-based, suggested putting the show together here. "You can't start on Broadway, it's, like, against the law," Snider cracks, with another huge smile. More seriously, he adds: "Cyndi Lauper's a friend of mine, and she had great success with launching her show [Kinky Boots] here, so I said perfect. And here we are."
Ever practical, Snider seems sanguine about the fact that many audience members closer to the 7 end of his range than the 70 end are more familiar with him for his turns on "maybe too many" reality shows than for his wild, makeup-caked stage persona.
"I've become less of a rock & roll star and more of a celebrity based on reality TV. Or maybe a rock & roll celebrity," he allows. "Although, once they tap into what I've done, it's, 'Oh, that's the 'We're Not Gonna Take It' guy?' Those songs have sort of transcended."
Dee Snider's Rock & Roll Christmas Tale runs November 4–December 6 at the Broadway Playhouse. For tickets, visit broadwayinchicago.com.