My first introduction to Dee Snider’s Rock & Roll Christmas Tale was at the Broadway In Chicago summer preview concert – although the premise sounded a little questionable, Dee Snider’s energy made me cautiously optimistic about the musical’s prospects. The first night of previews, however, dashed those hopes, and the opening night did not go nearly far enough to make up for that.
It’s easy to call it a vanity project when a celebrity branches out into musical theatre, although some of the resulting musicals are actually solid shows. Cyndi Lauper’s Kinky Boots won the 2013 Tony for Best Musical. I personally loved Sting’s The Last Ship. Dee Snider’s musical, on the other hand, fell flat.
Perhaps that is partially because he overextended himself – Lauper and Sting wrote the music (and what a gorgeous score The Last Ship is) of their respective musicals, but they brought in professionals to act and write the book. Dee Snider’s, while clearly a rock star, is neither a strong actor, nor is he a strong writer.
Snider’s delivery has much improved since that first night of previews, although he still doesn’t have that organic quality that good actors have – the ability to say the same lines eight shows a week and yet make it sound unscripted. He relies mostly on his star power and the fact that most people in the audience either came specifically to see him or at least know who he is.
The writing is not bad, exactly: it’s just not good either. The jokes feel forced. And frankly, I don’t care all that much about the characters (with the exception, perhaps, of the sweet, socially awkward, Elder Cunningham-esque Ralph, the drummer – and that partially because he reminds me of The Book of Mormon‘s Elder Cunningham).
An important part of any musical is the “I want.” The four members of Daisy Cutter want to be hair metal rock stars, and they want all of the fame and fortune that they assume goes along with that. I’m not entirely certain what hair metal is, so, clearly, this isn’t the best match to begin with. They want to be famous, but they blame everyone except for themselves for their lack of success, and they’re not willing to practice in order to improve because that’s “not metal.” (“Metal” is apparently partying all night, drinking until you can barely play, and doing as many drugs as you can afford – maybe it’s glamorous, but it’s not exactly sympathetic). So they decide to sell their souls to the devil … and somehow end up singing (rock versions of) Christmas carols.
The plot is fairly predictable, and the characters are two-dimensional, with the women being little more than eye candy (well, and plot device, in the case of the club owner Suzette). Frankly, most of the scenes with the women made me cringe.
In the show’s defense, the cast – all Chicago actors – seems to be enjoying themselves. They sing well, and I was impressed by Dee Snider’s assertion that the cast are all actually playing their instruments. Although Dee Snider is not a stellar actor, he has stage presence when he sings, and he joined the cast at the end of the show for a few songs, which was probably the most genuine and enjoyable part of the show. And despite the show’s shortcomings, it’s hard not to wish good things for someone who calls Chicago “New York’s prettier sister,” as Dee Snider did at the press opening.
The show offers a bit of holiday-themed fluff and escapism, but I’d be hard-pressed to call it a good show, and certainly not a great one. Somewhat similar to Feathers and Teeth (part of the Goodman’s New Stages), it entertains, but it doesn’t give me what I look for in theatre – emotional investment, a sense of something larger – and instead is more in keeping with a b-list movie: a way to pass the time but ultimately forgettable.
That said, Dee Snider’s Rock & Roll Christmas Tale would almost certainly be worthwhile for any Twisted Sister fans out there, given Dee Snider’s prominence in the show (and, of course, the fact that it is his show). For anyone else? Well, my tickets were part of a Broadway In Chicago subscription, and as such, I paid about $20 each – and for that, it was a mostly entertaining way to spend an hour and a half. But given that even Goldstar is charging enough that you could see the excellent national tours of Newsies or Cinderella instead? Pass.
If you’re really looking for a Christmas-themed show, any of Chicago’s A Christmas Carol variations would fit the bill nicely. The Goodman is offering their traditional A Christmas Carol (starring Larry Yando, who was most recently an incredible Lear in Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s King Lear) and The Second City’s humorously anachronistic, partially improvised Twist Your Dickens, Or Scrooge You!; Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol is a fresh, funny hip hop take on the classic.
Somewhat recommended: 2 stars
Broadway In Chicago at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place – 175 E Chestnut St., Chicago
Running through January 04, 2015
Runtime: One hour and 35 minutes with no intermission
Written by Dee Snider
Directed by Adam John Hunter