It’s no “Jingle Bell Rock.”
And that’s precisely the point of “Dee Snider’s Rock & Roll Christmas Tale,” a full-blown stage musical written by and starring the Twisted Sister frontman, which makes its world premiere in Chicago on Nov. 4.
“Put your name above the title. I learned that from ‘Spinal Tap’,” Snider said during a recent chat on a sunny fall day in Chicago. “We’re at a point in history where virtually every generation has been raised on rock. I’m a grandfather, and I was raised on rock. My grandkids are raised on rock. I was like, I think there’s a place for a rock and roll Christmas story.”
For the 59-year-old icon of head-banging metal rock, writing a Broadway musical is part and parcel of his constant reinvention.
‘Dee Snider’s Rock & Roll Christmas Tale’ When: Nov 4-Jan. 4 Where: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut Tickets: $52.50-$142.50 Info: (800) 775-2000; broadwayinchicago.com
Gone (except for the occasional Twisted reunion show) is the ’80s Snider, with the electrified flowing locks, blue eye shadow and red lipstick, and the rest of the metal-inspired costuming that defined his persona for nearly 20 years. These days Snider is all about style, a more chic-metal fashion sense, charitable giving, reality television (“Celebrity Wife Swap”; “Celebrity Apprentice” where he “got fired from a fake job so [he] was only fake bummed out.”), radio, movies, book writing, and plenty of rock music to be made, some if it with a Christmas twist.
“We have disco Christmas albums, medieval Christmas albums, jazz Christmas albums, so ‘Christmas Tale’ started out as a concept album originally,” said Snider, explaining the upcoming world premiere of his holiday stage musical at Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. “I was thinking of recording it with Twisted Sister when I showed it to the director [Adam John Hunter, whose credits also include “Company,” “Sweeney Todd” and “A Catered Affair”], who also did “Rock of Ages” [in which Snider starred on Broadway], and he said, “This is brilliant! It’s a musical, and I want to direct it!” So I began taking it from concept record and concert idea and developed it into a stage musical.
“I’m on stage every night, and my show producer, John Yonover, who is a Chicagoan, by the way, has informed me that I may not be absent. If they have to prop me up there like ‘Weekend and Bernie’s’ if I pass away during the show’s run then they’re gonna have to prop me up there with two guys and a chair!” … I play the Narrator and the Exorcist.”
Because nothing says Christmas like an exorcism.
“Dee Snider’s Rock & Roll Christmas Tale” tells the story of a heavy metal band looking to make it big even though the ’80s heyday for the genre is long gone. So what’s a band to do? They sell their souls to the devil in exchange for success, but whenever they try to seal the pact, their head-banging anthems morph into beloved Christmas songs. So the foursome turns to an exorcist to save their souls — well, what are they supposed to do, Burn in Hell? — and restore the true meaning of Christmas.
And if you’re thinking this one’s not for the faint of heart, think again. It’s rated G.
“I want people to feel warm and fuzzy,” said Yonover, whose other producing credits include “Memphis” and “To Master the Art.” “I want the ‘Nutcracker’-goers, the ‘Christmas Carol’-goers. I want them to take their kids to see this one. There is nothing inappropriate in Dee’s show. It’s for all ages.”
Twisted Sister hits morph into Christmas songs, Yonover explained. “I Wanna Rock” becomes “White Christmas.” “We’re Not Gonna Take It” turns into “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
Give it a minute.
“I wrote all the music for the show as well as the book,” Snider said. “It’s a combination of Twisted Sister hits, some new music, and a song I wrote called ‘The Magic of Christmas Day (God Bless Us Everyone),’ which originally was a Christmas gift for my wife, and which Celine Dion recorded [in 1998] on her 8-million-copies selling album ‘These Are Special Times.’ You walk out feeling in the holiday spirit.”
Once the show was written, premiering it in Chicago was the logical choice, Snider said. The city came highly recommended.
“I’m good friends with Cyndi Lauper, and she was talking to me about her show ‘Kinky Boots’ that premiered here. She said the city is so welcoming and it’s such a great place to launch a show. So we’re happy to be here.”
Snider is no stranger to Broadway musicals, both on the stage and off. In 2010, he made his Broadway debut as club owner Dennis Dupree in the ’80s metal-based “Rock of Ages.” Two years later he released “Dee Does Broadway,” a collection of show tunes with guest artists such as Bebe Neuwirth and Patti LuPone. But his love of the genre started way before all that.
“What about me and my costumes didn’t scream musical theater to you?” Snider said, laughing. “People were surprised that I went to Broadway and even that I’d write a musical and then star in it.
“Well, I was raised by a family that went to see shows all the time. ‘South Pacific’ played on an endless loop in my [childhood] house. So I didn’t have a choice. But I did enjoy it. So getting the chance to perform on Broadway in ‘Rock of Ages’ and now to see my own show brought to life is just amazing.”
Even Twisted Sister had earlier released “A Twisted Christmas,” an album of classic Christmas songs done heavy metal-style, in 2006.
“Everybody said it’s gonna put the last nail on the coffin of your career,” Snider said. “And I’m like, what career? We just do reunion shows. It turned out to be one of our biggest selling albums, and that sort of triggered ‘Rock & Roll Christmas’.”
When asked about doing eight show performances a week compared to being on tour with a heavy metal band, Snider said: “The biggest difference is in rock and roll you face your audience. In theater you don’t face the audiences. You don’t acknowledge the audiences. In concert I’ll stop a song if they’re not reacting. If they’re not reacting in the theater, you can’t stop the show and go, HEY, WAKE UP OUT THERE! YOU”RE SUPPOSED TO LAUGH NOW! There’s no playing to the audience like that.”
So where have all the true heavy metal rock and roll bands gone?
“Some people say it’s a dying breed, that it’s all behind us,” Snider said. “It’s a very big music scene out there. What’s changed is the way people get the music. Record sales are gone. It’s all online. It’s all compartmentalized. What’s gone are the rock stars. You don’t see rock stars anymore, the household names. Twisted Sister became a household name because it was cross-promoted. To get music out there, you had to be everywhere. So even if you weren’t a fan of the music, you were aware of the band. It was that way with Guns N Roses, KISS and Metallica.
“The new bands today, you mention Asking Alexandria, Motionless in White, or Black Veil Brides, and they are the biggest bands in the hard rock scene today, and if you’re not into the scene you’re not aware of them.”
Maybe it’s just a case of bad band names.
“If I have a new band, I’m gonna call it All the Good Band Names Are Taken,” Snider said, laughing. … Look, I’ve done every show with ‘celebrity’ in front of it. People get a snapshot of you in their minds and it’s wonderful. My snapshot for a long time was me from 1984. And that’s great — the screaming guy with the makeup and the hair, and that’s fine. I love it. I’m proud of it. But that’s 30 years ago. Reality TV gives people the chance to get to know you now. They’re a great tool for keeping your name out there, branding your name.”
So what does Snider miss most about his heyday with Twisted Sister?
“Being out with the band on the road. I miss how sharpened you get as a performer, how ‘on’ you always are. You become like a machine, and I don’t mean like a cookie-cutter machine. I just mean you’re in shape and you’re just so focused and you’re just that good every night. When you do a dozen shows a year, it’s like restarting the machine — oil, oil, oil can!”
Success does strange things to people, and Snider was no exception. The frank singer pulls no punches when he talks about the demise of the band that also included John Seagall, Eddie Ojeda, Anthony Jude Pero and Mark Mendoza.
What one thing would he change?
“I would eliminate being a complete dick in the ’80s,” Snider said without hesitation. “I went through a very moronic, self-important, blowing smoke up my own butt [period], and I almost destroyed my marriage, my family, the band, everything. I wasn’t a nice guy. It happens to a lot of people. I was all about ‘Shut up and give me the mic!’ And I lost everything because of it. Eventually I was humbled. My wife helped me get back up, and I learned some valuable lessons. When everyone in the world is filling your head with ‘You’re the greatest thing in the world’ … you think you can do no wrong. That’s not a good thing for you as a person. I feel better now. As for my resurrection, I’ve been wiser and humbler, and better for it.”
About that “resurrection,” Snider credits not only his wife of 33 years, costume designer Suzette Guilot-Snider, but also his faith.
” I was born and raised a Christian, and I still adhere to those principles that are no different than those of any other religion,” Snider said. “The basic rules of decency, like thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal. It’s about just being a decent person. Follow those rules and you can’t go wrong.”