If you find yourself in New York City this weekendor if youre just another Big Applebased, world-weary, anti-Santa cynicyou may want to hit up Adam Dugass answer to the seasons most dreaded perennial, the Christmas concert. In the past, hes collaborated with cabaret powerhouse Justin Bond and churned out politically charged revues with the Citizens Band. Now, the underground crooner (who just happens to be Casey Spooners BF) will emcee his fifth annual holiday extravaganza, Chaos & Candy. Featuring a revamped jingle from the lost Barbie Christmas album and brassy, astronomy-inspired costumes, this years spectacle is stuffed with avant-garde goodies. Think of it as an alternative to those cherub-faced brats who cant carry a tune in a bucket. Heres what Dugas had to say about the show.
How did you come up with the idea for Chaos & Candy?
Id always been interested in the history of the holiday because it has very strange underpinnings. You think you know what it is, but as soon as you start to dig deeper, it unravels. Christmas was originally the solstice celebration, during the darkest time of the year. Its the beginning of winter, but its also when people would put lights in their trees and have bonfires to get the sun to come back, because the superstition was that the sun was going to die. Its a very superstitious, haunted, magical time. So I just wanted to share that.
What can we expect from the performance?
The show is like a variety cabaret, my own network television special meets a Radio City show. I have guest singers, and we do The Nutcracker and dance numbers. Theres a theme every year.
This year its Cosmic Yule?
Yes, outer space renaissance. Everything is black and silver. The materials are easy to find, sparkly, and glamorous. But there are also some very well-made costumes. So many people feel left out at the holiday, whether theyre nonreligious or Jewish, so part of my goal was to produce this chaotic, pagan freak-out of light and color and music during the darkest time of year. You cant escape it, so you have to open a window to feel a part of it. Also, you get this endless rampage for months, and theres no release. You go to your familys house and there you are. Theres all this anticipation and shopping, and we freak out, and then you get there, and youre like, What happened? Theres nothing happening. This is the release youre waiting for.
This is the climax?
I climax for you. We get together and it feels like what you want the holiday to feel like. Its this massive, explosive orgy of fun.
Whats the format of the show?
I usually tell the entire history of Christmas, including how its related to New York CitySanta Claus was kind of invented hereand the way we celebrate it now. Theres this false nostalgia of Christmasthe family around the treewhich was invented by 19th-century advertisers. In a way, its the invention of Madison Avenue. This year theres more of a flow: a big opening number, then a parade of singers and dancers doing familiar and unfamiliar numbersand well have a lot of original songs this year.
Did you write any songs?
Im writing one. Were also doing a Kinks song called Father Christmas and a song from the Barbie Christmas album called The Snow Queen. And a really bizarre rendition of Sleigh Ride kabuki-style.
The Snow Queen? I dont know that.
I have this amazing friend who has all this pop-culture detritus. Shes like, Oh, did you know that the Turtles (who wrote Happy Together) wrote all the Strawberry Shortcake records? I think they wrote the Barbie Christmas album, too. But Im also into classical and Switched-On Bach, the 60s moog version of Bach. So were doing The Nutcracker that style, with synthesizers and electronic harpsichord sounds. We have a harpist, trumpets, saxophones, guitar, bass, keyboards, and lots of feedback effects. Its an electric orchestra.
Where are you performing this year?
At a brand new venue called The Box. Its going to open soon on the Lower East Side. Its a turn-of-the-century theater with a balcony. Its unbelievable.
Will you have elves?
I think there will be alien elves. Its really out of this world this year. Its more abstract.
So you have designers every year assist with the costumes?
Luckily I have a boyfriend who has a big closet full of costumes, so we borrow a lot from Fischerspooner. I usually have something made for myself. Last year we happened to have all these kimonos, and people pull together what they have.
I like how the show explores the darker side of Christmas.
You cant get away from it, and it gets worse every year. I used to want it to be a week-long festival. Then I found out it used to be a week-long festival, like Halloween or Mardi Gras. Thats where all the caroling comes from. Youd knock on the door, and you had to let people in and give them all your food and wine. Your boss would become your slave for the day. It was such a massive, drunken party that the New England colonies banned it. They purposely scheduled court to be on the day of Christmas so that people couldnt celebrate it. So when people say that its getting away from its original intent, its actually getting right back to where it started: a completely insane drunken festival of color and light, feasting, and overindulgence at the end of the year.
That sounds like my type of Christmas. Im less interested in the commercialized notion of the holidays.
Its all layers and layers of mythology, endlessly unfolding like those Russian dolls, where every time you open the next one, you think thats gonna be it, but theres another. Everywhere you go, someone has another story.
Youre in a bunch of projects, including Weimar New York with Justin Bond [of Kiki and Herb].
I wrote the theme song for that, and I did one of my original songs, which I performed. I love Justins performance. I get tired of hearing standards. I want people to write their own songs, so I decided to do it.
Do you envision Chaos & Candy as a film?
Yes, somewhere between Judy Garlands Christmas special and Pee-Wee Hermans Christmas special, mixed with documentary-like footage.
And youre doing solo performances in New York City for the holidays?
Yeah. I really want to do a subway show and hand out pamphlets. You know how they hand out the religious pamphlets? I would hand out The Alternate History of the Holidayseven if I did it for one day at the 42nd Street stop. I wonder what the motivation behind Christmas is. Its so self-serving but seductive to the people who want to feel good and connected.
So this show gives you a chance to be seductive.
Yes, a chance to be seductive and disruptive. [Laughs]
Chaos & Candy 5: Cosmic Yule, December 17, at The Box, 189 Chrystie Street (Between Rivington and Stanton), 9 p.m. For more on Adam, go to adamdugas.com.