Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. By Dee Snider. Directed by Adam John Hunter. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Dee Snider, the Twisted Sister frontman and, more recently, reality-TV staple, is both a consummate showman and, I got the impression in a one-on-one interview a few weeks back, a shrewd businessman. He, and his producers, recognize that his goofball concept for a holiday show (which he originally imagined as a concept album) marrying his own ’80s-era rock aesthetic with Christmas cheer, in 2014, has plenty of potential cross-generational appeal as an alternative to the Currier & Ives earnestness of certain other big-C carols.
Done right, it could sell to those who were adult fans three decades ago and now are cool grandparents; my generation, who were schoolkids in Twisted Sister's heyday and now have kids of our own; and a younger set curious about the guy they know mostly from Celebrity Apprentice.
This initial staging, which stars Snider alongside a cast of Chicago actors, fulfills much of that potential, but like a new electric guitar, it needs a little tuning before it can really shred.
The high/low concept of the story for which Snider serves as narrator is that of a not-so-fearsome foursome called Däisy Cütter who, to boost their futile efforts to keep the near-obsolete genre of hair metal alive after too many nights playing to empty rooms, decide to sell their souls to Satan. (Fear not—for the types of families who would consider a Dee Snider Christmas show in the first place, things remain family-friendly enough.)
After signing the pact written up by lead singer D.D. (the appealing Adam Michaels, done up like pre-VH1 Bret Michaels), though, the band finds itself shifting uncontrollably into rock renditions of Christmas carols; though the fans they crave start showing up in droves, D.D. considers their compulsive new material unacceptably un-Metal. (The big reveal of what exactly is going on is saved until the end, but if you catch the subtle-as-an-anvil early mention of D.D.'s horrible spelling abilities, you'll get where we're headed.)
Snider's script has its charms both clever and cornball, with its mix of rock in-jokes and Dad Jokes. The four actors who make up Däisy Cütter—Michaels, Dan Peters, Tommy Hahn and Wilam Tarris, endearing as the new-guy drummer—display solid musicianship, and the costumes, designed by Snider's wife Suzette, are pitch-perfect pastiches of oversharing Spandex for the guys and ultra-miniskirts and improbable heels for the ladies (Keely Vasquez as the club owner and love interest for dorky drummer Taris, and Christina Nieves and Taylor Yacktman as a pair of flesh-and-blood video vixens).
Yet the copious running jokes tend to outrun their welcome, as the piece currently feels padded even at 90 minutes. And while this holiday tale isn't and needn't be aiming for Dickensian or even Sedaris-ish character development, these guys and their relationships need a little fuller detail.
Why is D.D. so obsessed with his patron saint, Ozzy Osbourne, and so opposed to success by another path? Why is Tarris's Ralph the new guy—what happened to the old drummer? Why does the romance between Ralph and Vasquez's Suzette (yep, named after Dee's wife) feel so perfunctory? Answer a few of these questions, and Snider's show will be ready to rock.