December 17, 2014



Last night, I caught Christmas With The Crawfords, starring Joey Arias Nyc, Sherry Vine, Connie Champagne, Flotilla Debarge and Chris Mirto as Christina since Chris March is out sick. It's a dizzying (and dizzy) spectacle when Joan (Joey Arias) throws a holiday bash. This serves not only as an excuse to have many celebrities from Hollywood's Golden Age to pop by for cameos, but also to recreate the insane Christmas party scene from Mommie Dearest. Joan is drunk and at a low point at her career, which sets the stage for a barrage of ego-bruising zingers. None of the guests really like Joan, but they've stopped by on the way to Gary Cooper's party. Sherry Vine is the maid (Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane) and plays it to the hilt by serving Joan a dead rat, singing I've Written A Letter To Santa (as opposed to Daddy). Sherry nails Baby Jane for some huge laughs and later returns as Hedda Hopper. Now if you don't know who Hedda Hopper, the hat-wearing gossip columnist of the 1940s, is--you may also be too young to recognize other celebs like Gloria Swanson (as a completely demented Norma Desmond), Judy Garland (in a red wig which threw me off), Carmen Miranda, The Andrews Sisters and Ethel Merman. Flotilla Debarge makes a scene-stealing turn as Hattie McDaniel, taunting Joan with her Oscar and belting out a few tunes in mammy drag. This is old school Gay Camp 101--so sorry, but there's no Lady Gaga or Katy Perry references for the twinks.

But the audience at the beautiful (if too warm) Abrons Arts Center screamed at every mention of wire coat hangers or any time Joan whacks her kids. Because what say holiday spirit like child abuse? An interesting twist makes Christina a bitch rather than simply a victim, and the little sourpuss is constantly taking notes in her diary, which would of course go on to expose Joan as the opposite from the happy homemaker she pretends to be for her public. Joey doesn't resemble or sound like Joan Crawford, but he makes it work by melding Joan with his own nutty persona and by the time Joan starts really melting down with rage, the audience is feeling it right along with him. His demonic, threatening version of Silent Night is delirious fun and he also pays homage to that foul rehearsal leotard and wraparound skirt from Joan's film Torch Song. Joey's not only singing, dancing and whipping that wraparound skirt, he's also spryly up and down a steep staircase in a variety gowns. At her age and in 6 inch fetish heels! When the party goes awry, his control freak character flips out and at one point, imagines pre-recorded voices in his head which made me howl! I think that may refer to the Joan's mental breakdown in Straight Jacket. Another funny scene turns Christina into Vida in Mildred Fierce's slap scene. So it's basically a greatest hits of Joan's campest screen moments with plenty of Mommie Dearest thrown in.

Each guest performs a song or two--often a comically worked Christmas song. While zany as hell, you're also treated to some fine performances and San Francisco treasure Connie Cnampagne can really melt a crowd with her rendition Judy's Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. The Gloria Swanson, decked out in one of Chris March's many genius costumes, is not only ready for her close-up but also a lobotomy. It was tough to take my eyes off that actor, who I'd love to credit but I  misplaced my program. This nutty, all-singing, all-dancing holiday romp runs through 12/27 and tickets are $45. It's been 12 years since this San Francisco classic has had an NYC revival so catch it while you can!