In this part of the world, it doesn’t get that cold in wintertime, but it does get dark and quiet. Many holiday traditions we practice aim to do something about that situation, and a trio of shows that opened last weekend have that in common: If it’s too dark, they light a candle. If it’s too quiet, they make some noise.
Homo for the Holidays, Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker, and Buttcracker all make plenty of light and noise as they ring changes on traditional holiday tropes. They are all essentially variety shows, a collection of disparate acts strung together with a seasonal theme or a familiar story, and depend on our knowledge of those conventions to make sense.
Land of the Sweets is an annual project for Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann, who specialize in what they call “spectacles of ecdysiastic pageantry.” Now in its 11th season, the show is a sleek production that runs like a freshly tuned-up sports car. The audience is all a part of McCann’s fabulous holiday party, where “special guests” perform their best bits for us. McCann and Verlaine use the Duke Ellington jazz version of Tchaikovsky’s original Nutcracker score for some salacious variations on what is usually family entertainment. Most of the elements from the original ballet are here in a modified form—the Spanish and Chinese dances and the big ensemble sections are loving variations on well-known steps. Verlaine’s choreography reaches back to the 19th-century roots of music-hall performances, emphasizing the “tease” in striptease. Although there are plenty of pasties and g-strings in Land of the Sweets, most of the acts have a very elaborate setup before the reveal—Verlaine’s Countess of Coffee is as much an homage to the Ballet Russe as it is an exotic dance.
The stripping in Homo for the Holidays is a bit more bump-and-grind, and the seasonal party that anchors the show serves mulled Bud Light instead of wine, but it’s also full of holiday joie de vivre. Produced by BenDeLaCrème, Lou Henry Hoover, and Kitten LaRue, this is the ninth year for Homo. Hosted by DeLaCrème, it combines traditional themes and topical commentary, along with multiple seasonal references. (Mrs. Santa lost the election, so we have a canned ham as Santa-elect). Angie Lee (LaRue) is an angel who wants to earn her wings, and by the time she does at the end of the show, we’ve seen the three spirits from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” stripping by Cookie (Faggedy Randy), a pole dance by Candy (The One, The Only Inga), and a birthday phone call from God for Jesus (ilvs strauss). In a show where DeLaCrème declares the audience all honorary homosexuals for the evening, the jokes are salacious or silly or both (when the token “Jewish family from down the block” appears, he introduces himself as Dreidel: “Call me Dre—I’m a top”). Cherdonna caterwauls her way through “Winter Wonderland” and dances a reindeer duet with Hoover. It’s an extremely warmhearted show—DeLaCrème’s curtain speech reminds us all that, although 2016 has been chaotic, we are still in a much better place than we were in the past. And the cast closes the evening by taking donations for charities like Planned Parenthood and Black Lives Matter as the audience leaves the theater.
It’s just the second year for Buttcracker, and while the production’s details are rougher than those of the other shows in the series opening last weekend, the audience was more than ready to rock with this holiday version from the producers of the 2005 Buttrock Suites. The original idea was to explore the kind of dancing you did in your bedroom listening to heavy metal when you were still an angst-ridden teen, and Buttcracker just extrapolates a holiday version of a private concert, complete with roadies and groupies. Think Santa with a mullet. This year’s version includes an elaborate nativity scene with a film of God (Wade Madsen) lip-syncing to Guns N’ Roses (“Problem Child”) and Kansas (“Wayward Son”) while an acolyte administers a communion with birthday cake, and a paean to snow, starting with snowflakes and ending with cocaine. It’s one of the only times you’ll see performers spinning giant razor blades. Aside from the jokier content, one of the work’s most compelling sections is Karen Garrett de Luna on a low-hanging trapeze. Most aerial performers make a choice between hiding all the difficulties in their routines and letting us see the sheer strength it takes to pull yourself up a rope while it’s spinning. De Luna comes from the second group, and it was fascinating to watch her tie herself in knots up in the air.
If you’re longing for some holiday entertainment that goes beyond the standard fare, any of these shows would be a great choice to shed some light, and make some noise. Land of the Sweets, The Triple Door, 216 Union St., 838-4333, thetripledoor.net. $40–$65. Ends Thurs., Dec. 29. Homo for the Holidays, West Hall, 915 E. Pine St., homofortheholidays.strangertickets.com. $32–$37. Ends Mon., Dec. 26. Buttcracker, Erickson Theatre Off Broadway, 1524 Harvard Ave. $20–$25. 7:30 p.m. Thurs., Dec. 15–Sun., Dec. 18.