A nutty, campy alternative to Nutcrackers, Grinches and other Xmas frivolities.
By Joel Benjamin
If you want a nutty, campy, over-the-top alternative to Nutcrackers, Grinches and other Xmas frivolities, drag yourself to the newly chic Lower East Side to see Christmas with the Crawfords at the Abrons Arts Center on Grand Street. There, arrayed before your discerning eye, will be Joan Crawford, Christopher Crawford and Christina Crawford all enjoying an evening by the fireside with close friends Bette Davis (as Baby Jane Hudson), Ethel Merman, Gloria Swanson, Judy Garland, Liberace (who accompanied all the song stylings), the Andrew Sisters, Edith Head, Carmen Miranda and even Hattie McDaniel—the kind of gathering that makes for a dizzying, mind-altering and entertaining evening. They are all attending a Christmas Eve radio interview of La Crawford by the legendary columnist Hedda Hopper whose approval was so important during the Forties and Fifties. What Miss Hopper gets is attitude up the whazoo, lots of big hair, wonderful songs and delicious chaos.
Joey Arias, drag artist extraordinaire, portrays Miss Joan Crawford as a desperate domestic despot, lording it over a doughy Christina (Chris March) and an ADHD-affected Christopher (Adam Davidson who doesn’t seem to have a bone in his slender body). Garrit Gaudan is the low-keyed Liberace whose piano playing provided a lovely backdrop to the crazy goings-on. Sherry Vine was the hyper-exaggerated Baby Jane and the neatly chic Hedda (complete with trademark hat). Brett-Marco Glauser glibly transitioned from pop singer Maxene Anderson to a zippy Carmen Miranda. Similarly Jason B. Schmidt veered from Patty Andrews to the big-mouthed, charismatic Gloria Swanson. As LaVerne Andrews, Edith Head and Ethel Merman, Vodka Stinger showed the full range of his (her?) talents. Flotilla Debarge was a Hattie McDaniel right off a pancake mix box and a hoot.
Connie Champagne’s Judy Garland was the only character that had a bit of sad angst. Her singing was an honest tribute to the mythical creature she inhabited.
The set by Andrea Purciglllottl was ostentatiously comfortable, complete with a twisty staircase, perfect for grand entrances and exits. The costumes and wigs by Chris March would give RuPaul’s Drag Race a run for its money while Donna Drake’s direction and bits of choreography caught the period feel of the Forties.
Mark Sargent’s script wasn’t subtle, but no one goes to a drag show for subtlety. His writing was colorful and his recycling of all the old clichés heavy-handed but totally hilarious.
Christmas with the Crawfords – December 10-27, 2014
Abrons Arts Center 466 Grand St. at Pitt St. New York, NY
Tickets: 212-352-3101 or www.abronsartscenter.org
Running time: 90 minutes