Stephanie, Francesca, and I saw Taylor Mac’s *Holiday Sauce* show at The Town Hall on 12/11/18. The three of us saw one of judy’s *24-Decade History of Popular Music* performances in 2016 and Francesca and I saw judy’s *Holiday Sauce* last December. We love judy, we have to see judy every time.
I know what you’re thinking - - who the hell is Judy? Judy is not a person, exactly: judy is Taylor Mac’s self-invented personal pronoun. Rather than using “he” or “she,” Mac uses “judy.” Lower case. Named after the one and only Judy Garland, of course. It’s a little bit of hard work (and the NY Times, in reviews of Mac, use the pronoun “he”), but I feel it’s important to respect people’s choices.
One of the highlights of Mac’s shows is the costumes, done by Machine Dazzle. Judy’s first costume was a huge upright circle in the form of a gingerbread sombrero. Because why not? Fabulous shoes, of course, one with a red sequined bow, the other with a green sequined bow. Other reds and greens in the fabric on the torso and arms, I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on there. A prominent motif in the work of this artist. The second costume had a horizontal headdress loaded with about thirty little evergreen trees, a broad set of white wings, and a white and silver bodysuit with an indiscriminate white and silver wrap over it. The headdress, wings and wrap prevented judy from comfortably playing the ukulele near the end of the show, so they were removed and hurled to the floor. In a spirit of love and inclusiveness.
The first song was strident and thrilling, it had something to do with bells and contained the lyric “the bowels and tail of a rat.” Not on the Bing Crosby Christmas album. Mac said that this would be a “radical fairy realness ritual sacrifice holiday show.” And good Lord, it was! They had just played many shows in San Francisco - - Mac thought judy would be in the midst of judy’s tribe, but was surprised to find out they were playing a theater that presents touring Broadway shows, “and the people thought they were going to see *Dear Evan Hansen.* At one point I shouted out, ‘Where are my queens?’ and five people went, ‘Woo, woo1’ “ [pause] “Return to your technique.”
Next up was “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Here’s judy performing it at Joe’s Pub in 2012:
Judy had done this song at last year’s show, and honestly, the overlap between the two shows was about half to two thirds, which was a disappointment. I tried to turn my frown upside down (my pathology) and accept it for what it was - - judy did say this would be a ritual, and isn’t familiarity and repetition an essential part of a ritual? But as a theater goer who paid $86, I expect a lot more new material. It was still an extraordinary and meaningful experience, but wouldn’t you think the holiday music catalog would be a bottomless pit of things that can be deconstructed and repurposed, put through the Taylor Mac wringer to emerge as something fresh, vital, and transgressive?
It was during one of these early numbers that Tigger! made his first appearance. Tigger! is James Tigger! Ferguson, “The Godfather of Neo-Boylesque.” He played the Baby Jesus in this number, wore a teeny weeny diaper, a big gold glitter-encrusted halo, and brown sandals, and rolled around on a desk chair festooned with raffia. He had a solo number later in the show (to give Mac a chance to change costumes) in which he stripped down a G-string, did some vigorous dancing on the floor, and then removed the G-string, revealing his dingle dangle, wrapped up in neon green sparkly fabric. He removed that and it sort of looked like his dingle dangle was bedazzled with gold sequins (?), or maybe it was just a trick of the lighting. He finished the number, the crowd went wild, and he went to the back of the stage and spent quite a while chatting with one of the trumpet players. With his gold-bedazzled dingle dangle hanging out the whole time. One of the most fascinating bits of this entirely fascinating show.
The show was a tribute to Mac’s drag mother and mentor, Mother Flawless Sabrina, who died shortly before last year’s *Holiday Sauce* show. Mac had a big photo of Mother in the central spot at the back of the set, and judy spoke about her so touchingly. Take a look at last year’s review for some hilarious quotes by Mother. My favorite new quote: “If it’s not glued, it’s taped.” And a funny story - - when Mac first went to Mother’s apartment, judy was amazed to see what appeared to be gold leaf on the ceiling. “Mother, how on earth can you afford gold leaf for your ceiling?” “Sweetheart, that’s not gold leaf. It’s tin foil and fifty years of smoking.”
Mac brought out an eight-member "elder choir" to join him in a performance of that holiday classic, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” The choir was led by Barbara Maier Gustern, an adorable tiny lady in a fierce pair of leopard boots. She was head and shoulders above the other elders in terms of vocal presence. She is also Mac’s vocal coach, she had a cute schoolmarmy way with him, she shook her finger at him a couple times, so endearing. She's also coached Debbie Harry, Justin Vivian Bond, and the one and only Diamanda Galás!
They did an English working class barroom sing-along and invited anyone who knew all the words, or anyone who wanted a free drink, onto the stage. Stephanie didn’t know all the words, but was up for the free drink, so she was one of the fifty people who rushed the stage. One of the hallmarks of Mac’s shows is audience participation, and it’s used in such a meaningful way. You’re not just pulled into the show and kept alert, you’re embraced by the performers and your fellow audience members, you become part of the whole community. That’s worth $86.
Mac’s music director and arranger is Matt Ray, and he is a genius. His arrangement of “Silent Night” once again put me in tears - - it has a Dixieland vibe, it respects the song itself but puts it in a warm and newly meaningful context, like a familiar old friend made startlingly gorgeous in a new dress. Mac invited us to hum along in the last verse, and I could barely hum, I was crying so hard. Also worth $86.
I found myself trying to come up with a word to describe what was going on with the show, and it really can’t be summed up with one word. You need many adjectives to describe a Taylor Mac show: