Taylor Mac Once Again Delivers the Irreverence, Love, and Wonder With 'Holiday Sauce'
by Jay Barmann
Taking in a Taylor Mac performance — and I use that verb construction because “watching” only covers a fraction of it — is as much about collective catharsis as it is about the humor, the banter, the costumes and the music. “Performance” even feels insufficient — the genre of his current “Holiday Sauce” at The Curran is technically listed as an “extravaganza,” and that sums up most of his work. While I expected to be attending a holiday-themed coda to last year’s “24-Decade History of Popular Music,” perhaps made up of the more Christmas-y bits from the years of research he did with musical director Matt Ray that didn’t fit into that show, what I saw on opening night on Friday was something else, but no less extraordinary than Mac’s 24-hour epic.
It was also much briefer, running just over two hours.
Mac — whose stated preferred pronoun is “judy” but I’ll ask him to forgive the use of “him” for our purposes (he identifies as a gay man) — is a performer first, a songwriter second, and a creator of carnival-esque experiences that transcend the idea of a simple “drag show” or cabaret performance. “Holiday Sauce,” like the earlier show, includes a troupe of locally cast “Dandy Minions” that in this case played everyone from the Baby Jesus to the angel Gabriel (both nude or almost nude, with requisite glitter), the Three Wise Men, and Sexual Consent Santa Claus (played by a butch lesbian). There’s also an eight-piece band on stage, with Ray returning to arrange a set of songs both familiar and original.
The stars are of course Taylor himself, and a pair of extraordinary costumes by designer Machine Dazzle, who himself makes an appearance as a lit-up Christmas tree.
After opening with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (“It’s from 1830,” he quips, “and apparently there was a War on Christmas even back then,” referring to the “Remember Christ our savior was born on Christmas Day” line), Mac breezes through several numbers that get increasingly more blasphemous. “O Holy Night” gets recast with some lewd hand gestures and double entendre. “Little Drummer Boy” gets brilliantly mashed up with "All Tomorrow’s Parties” by The Velvet Underground. And he performs a “capitalism triptych” that opens with a rousing rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which Mac says “always seemed like a Christmas song to me.”
In between, Mac delivers several original numbers, the most wrenching and wonderful of which is a song, accompanied just by his ukulele, about his three sets of terrible grandparents — two biological and one set of step-grandparents — all of whom made the holidays an annual misery. In their stead he adds an “elder chorus” of LGBTQ folks to his diverse cast, which is just one of multiple examples of how he seeks to recast, recalibrate, and redefine the holiday season for his own purposes.
The other, most central one, is a tribute that he alludes to at the opening that ultimately takes on greater pathos as the show goes on. Mac lost his drag mother Flawless Sabrina almost exactly a year ago, and he says that as he and his team sat down to begin conceiving this holiday show, he decided he mostly just wanted to do something in honor of Flawless, and her many words of wisdom to her acolytes over the years.
And as Flawless inspired Taylor to reach higher and be bolder in his work, so he inspires us. He pledges to make this show an annual thing, and to keep adding on to it over the years as necessary — to “dream the culture forward” as he put it in the last show. For now it is a delightful and bizarre holiday surprise that will leave everyone — but especially queer people — thankful to have their own conflicted experience of the season reflected back at them in a new and glorious morn.
Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce plays through December 1. Find discounted seats at RushTix.