Heavy metal spoofed in family-friendly 'Dee Snider's Rock & Roll Christmas Tale'
"Dee Snider's Rock & Roll Christmas Tale" features a satanic blood pact, an exorcism and lots of headbanging heavy metal music. Yet, this world premiere musical at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place is family-friendly through and through.
You might think this a paradox -- especially since so many parents, politicians and religious leaders in the 1980s accused heavy metal musicians of writing coded suicidal and satanic messages into their songs.
But it's no stranger than the notion that Snider, frontman of an anti-establishment metal band like Twisted Sister, would parody all of that by writing and starring in a good-hearted Christmas show.
The end result is a musical comedy that plays like an extended "Saturday Night Live" comedy sketch. Either that or a far tamer knockoff of the much raunchier Broadway jukebox musical "Rock of Ages," but only featuring a back catalog of Snider's hit songs like "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock" mixed with Christmas carols.
"Rock & Roll Christmas Tale" features Snider as a celebrity narrator sharing the rags-to-riches story of the fictional heavy metal band Däisy Cütter. Though heavy metal has long been out of fashion, the four members of Däisy Cütter are still hopelessly devoted to the genre and its flamboyant fashion of long-flowing hair and clingy spandex (a look mercilessly and hilariously parodied here by former Twisted Sister costume designer Suzette Guilot-Snider).
When Däisy Cütter faces eviction from the basement of Club Dazzle for failing to attract crowds in the week leading up to Christmas, dim lead singer D.D. (an intense Adam Michaels) pressures his bandmates to sign a satanic blood pact for fame and fortune in exchange for their souls. But instead of their music becoming darker, all of Däisy Cütter's efforts turn into rocked-out Christmas carols.
In terms of Snider's writing and plotting, this is low-stakes dramatic stuff and so-so comedy. It also sometimes descends to the level of bathroom humor, mainly through the few appearances of the drunkard club denizen Scratch (played with a fun spaciness by Bill McGough).
The Däisy Cütter bandmates do impress as versatile actor-musicians who play all their own instruments. But there's not much for them to dramatically convey other than to be generally angry (Tommy Hahn as bass player Tank), resentful (Dan Peters as lead guitarist Johnny) or shy (Wilam Tarris, who gets the most comic material as love-struck drummer Ralph).
The show's few women are also underwritten as love interests in curve-accentuating outfits. But at least these women are either in positions of power (Keely Vasquez as no-nonsense club owner Suzette Gambozi), or prove to have the social media smarts to help elevate Däisy Cütter to become an online sensation (Christina Nieves and Taylor Yacktman as supportive waitresses Angel and Angie).
Director Adam John Hunter oversees a glossily produced show with a great set by designer Rob Bissinger that looks like a deconsecrated church and plenty of flashy concert-style lighting by Heather Gilbert.
And crucially for heavy metal fans, you do get a droll Dee Snider putting in repeated appearances and sharing his own brand of humor. So depending on your affection for lightweight musical fare, "Dee Snider's Rock & Roll Christmas Tale" will either feel like a celebrity vanity project or a fun, rocking alternative to traditional holiday shows.
"Dee Snider's Rock & Roll Christmas Tale"★ ★ ½
Location: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (no evening shows Nov. 27, Dec. 24 or 25), 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday (no evening shows Nov. 30, Dec. 7 or Jan. 4). Extra 2 p.m. matinees Nov. 26 and 28, Dec. 3, 24, 26 and 31; runs through Sunday, Jan. 4
Running time: About 100 minutes with no intermission
Parking: Area pay garages and metered street parking
Rating: For general audiences