Francesca, Brian, and I (and a handful of their amusing young friends) saw Taylor Mac at Town Hall on 12/12/17, in a show called *Taylor Mac's 24-Decade History: Holiday Sauce.* The three of us plus my friend Stephanie saw Mac at St. Ann's Warehouse in October 2016, really and truly one of the most sublime and transformative performances of my life.
A word about personal pronouns: in my review of the show last year I referred to Mac as "he," since that's what the NY Times calls him. But Mac has invented the personal pronoun judy to take the place of "he" or "she." A lower case j. Named after the immortal Judy Garland, natch. I didn't feel up to using that personal pronoun last year, but in this political climate, I feel it's important to respect people and the things they do and decisions they make to give their lives meaning and help them to be their most authentic selves. So judy it is.
Judy opened the show with a rousing number I didn't know, something about bells, incorporating the "Carol of the Bells." Judy explained that the "holiday sauce" bit in the title of the show was an homage to judy's drag grandmother, Mother Flawless Sabrina, who would say, "You're the boss, applesauce." That was her way of saying, "You have to create the life you want and bend the world to your vision of it." Inspiring, yes? Mother Flawless Sabrina (aka Jack Doroshow) just died a couple of weeks ago, and appears to have been a big influence on Mac and many other people. No wonder, based on the quotes that Mac gave us:
"Culture is not conducive to you being comfortable in your own skin."
"Irreverence is a tool, not a way of life."
"Normal is a setting on a dryer and reality is just a mass hunch."
"We don't care what other people think about us, only what we think about other people."
Mac said that judy envisioned the show as a way to exorcise the holiday demons that have infested our culture, a way of taking the forced holiday cheer and turning it into something dark and useful. I'm paraphrasing, but I know that judy used the phrase, "Incorporate the calamity!" Stitch THAT on a pillow.
The next number was "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," done as an angry belted anthem. Mac said to judy's music director, Matt Ray, "You really jumped the Christmas arrangement shark on THAT one." Courtesy of youtube (and Joe's Pub), we can see a performance from 2012:
Mac said that when judy was planning the show, judy could hear judy's mother's voice saying, "Oh Taylor, can't you just sing one of those pretty Christmas songs? Wouldn't that be nice?" So judy said judy would try that. The band vamped, and judy sang, "O holy night...stop right there." And the band stopped. Mac talked about how the song had all of this repulsive imagery that judy couldn't stand, so the solution came from Mother Flawless Sabrina - - use substitutions! So when we sing, "It is the night of the dear Savior's birth," since we don't all believe in Christ as the Savior, we could think about the grand creative impulse when we sing the word "Savior." "Sin" became "capitalism." The word "holy" had a racy subtext - - would the spelling be "holey?" My favorite: " ' Fall on your knees.' I don't have any problem with that line."
So judy went through the whole first verse, line by line, and then we all sang it together. It was beautiful and sweet. Mac has a way of creating community, beyond any other performer I've seen. It's not just about putting people in the same room, it's about creating a space where we all exist together, connect with judy and with each other, and truly share the experience.
Judy did a medley mixing "All Tomorrow's Parties" by Velvet Underground with "The Little Drummer Boy." At some point during that song, judy's costume designer, Machine Dazzle, came through the balcony, tossing chewy peppermint candy, dressed as a Christmas tree. Judy did "You Can't Always Get What You Want," which I've never seen as a holiday song, but it made sense in that context.
Judy wanted us to imagine that we're walking down a busy street, passing by stores blaring holiday music. Judy instructed the people in the left balcony to sing "Jingle Bells," the right balcony to sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the left orchestra to sing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," and the right orchestra to sing "The Dreidel Song." And to top it off, Machine Dazzle was singing "More, More, More," the disco classic by Andrea True! We sang all of this together, on top of each other, and it was riotous.
Special guest James Tigger! Ferguson did a strip number to "Spirit in the Sky," to give Mac time to change into another elaborate costume (the first one was a nightmare of holiday motifs, the second one was a creepy carousel). Tigger! appeared to have a sequined dingle dangle, something I don't believe I'd seen before.
Mac came back onstage saying that this show was going to be even bigger next year, with a huge choir onstage, and that we'd all walk down to Radio City, invade the Christmas Spectacular, and liberate the Rockettes! I'm looking forward to it already, I want to be part of THAT. Judy did an envelope-pushing, hilarious, original song, self-accompanying on the ukulele. Something about sexual assault (a recurring motif in this show, as in so many other holiday shows).
The program officially ended with a heavenly performance of "Silent Night," which had a slow, lush, sleepy, honky tonk, New Orleans vibe to it. We all hummed one chorus, another meaningful moment of community.
Two encores: "Food, Glorious Food" - - Francesca was happy to hear that, she's a big fan of *Oliver!*, she just happened to be singing "Who Will Buy?" on the sidewalk before the show. And the final encore was "How Can I Keep From Singing?" Francesca thought that this, at last, was the pretty song that judy's mother would have wanted. I wonder if judy planned it that way?
It was one of those rare performances where the audience lingers after it's over, we weren't quite ready to leave.