One thing 2020 cannot take away is the holiday season! Though we are stuck in our own personal halls decked with boughs of holly, we don’t have to just sit and watch the twinkling lights on the tree. There are tons of things to watch that will feed our need for Christmas cheer.
Surprisingly, 2020 seems to be the year us queer folk finally get to see ourselves represented in the holiday entertainment genre. Both Lifetime and The Hallmark Channel are presenting movies with LGBTQIA+ main characters. Hulu recently released the filmed-in-Pittsburgh hit, Happiest Season.
What is missing this year is the plethora of holiday-themed theatre but City Theatre (located in Pittsburgh’s South Side) is doing its part to fill that void with a brand-new original production Claws Out: A Holiday Drag Musical.
As thrilling as it is to see Dan Levy and Kristen Stewart strolling down Pittsburgh streets in Happiest Season, you can’t get much more Pittsburgh than Claws Out! First off, the musical was written and performed by Point Park University graduates Monteze Freeland and Shua Potter, and Pittsburgh musician/composer Douglas Levine. The pre-recorded stage production was filmed at WQED Studios, partially in the same studio as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. You can let your hometown pride boil over while watching this raucous musical!
As a Pittsburgh theatre artist, I know the stars of this show very well. Let me sing their praises.
I met Shua Potter as we were musical theatre majors together at Point Park University. I remember thinking that Shua was going to be something from our first day of classes freshman year. I’m happy to say I was right. Shua just had that ‘It’ factor. That has taken him far.
He has performed onstage in productions all over the country, including Broadway where he appeared in Mary Poppins. His drag alter ego, Schwa De Vivre, is just as successful. As Shua describes Schwa, “she’s energetic, beautiful and ridiculous! If you want laughter, joy and a brass, belty drag queen in your life, this is the gal to follow!” I wholeheartedly second these emotions. She’s even a Chopped Champion! Schwa (by way of Shua) is really one of the stars of Claws Out but I’ll tell you more about that later.
A former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “Performer of the Year”(2017), Monteze Freeland is multi-faceted and multi-talented. As he puts it, “sometimes I want to act, some days I want to direct or produce and other times, I want to write and sometimes all before breakfast.” I’ve had the joy of sharing the stage with Monteze a few times. He is a generous scene partner, but he is a more generous friend.
Before I move on, Monteze has some things he’d like you to know: “I love Patti Labelle and Worldstar Hip Hop (in that order). Never met a piece of cake I didn’t like. I am single. SINGLE! Just FYI.” Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let me tell you about the show.
Freeland describes Claws Out like this: “Synopsis: Picture it. The North Pole. 2020. Rachel Claus, the Jewish Mrs. Claus, is luxuriating on her cushy throne as she has made the North Pole more of a spa resort than a well-oiled machine. In comes Roberta, who was selected by the elves to replace Rachel and clean the North Pole up with her sharp flair for order. Rachel won’t go down without a fight and challenges Roberta to the North Pole SLAY Competition where they duke it out for the ultimate title of Mrs. Claus.”
City Theatre audiences met Rachel Claus last year in a previous Potter/Freeland collaboration, a drag cabaret act called Santa’s TED Talk. Well, she was a hit! According to Potter, “we had so much fun creating that piece and that character, we decided to write a full-length play. I got Douglas Levine involved to write a little music and he convinced us to turn it into a full-scale musical and here we are!”
Freeland adds, “I was watching a clip of Dynasty because I am THAT gay and Diahann Carroll and Joan Collins sparring gave me the idea of creating these dueling queens, Rachel and Roberta.”
Creating a full-fledged musical during the dumpster fire of this year was an experience. “The writing process was difficult because we were fresh into the pandemic as we started and finding joy or any impetus to write proved to be a barrier,” says Freeland. But the creative team soldiered on, socially distanced, of course! “The process was bizarre because we wrote most of the show via phone and Zoom conversations,” says Potter. “With insightful notes from the artistic team at City Theatre, I think we created a really solid, funny show!”
Filming the show brought its own challenges. “It was difficult because we had a bunch of theatre people trying to make a movie, having never done it before,” says Potter. “It was fun but early hours – 2.5 hours in make-up and 10-hour days,” says Freeland. “They kept the studio freezing so we wouldn’t melt like Ms. Gulch. Bless them for THAT!”
The cast and creative team shared a lot of love between them. “It was such a joy to be able to create, especially with Shua, Douglas and the amazing team,” says Freeland. Potter adds, “I trust Monteze as a fellow actor, so we had fun and made it WERK!”
Claws Out is now available for streaming on City Theatre’s website. Purchase a ticket and you can watch on your tv, computer, tablet or smartphone. Tickets start at just $15.
City Theatre isn’t stopping there. For $50, you can join the stars for an interactive virtual holiday party and viewing of the show on December 12th or 19th. That will include crafts, games and holiday treats delivered to your home by the elves of City Theatre (if you live within a certain radius of Pittsburgh). You can find more information and purchase tickets at citytheatrecompany.org.
As an added bonus, if you need more Schwa in your life after Claws Out, she’s doing another holiday show online. Miss De Vivre is also a stellar Liza Minelli impersonator and she’ll be performing “Liza, With A Tree! A Drag Variety Show” online on Friday, December 11th at 8pm EST. For tickets and links to everything Schwa, visit ThatDragQueen.com or find Schwa on Instagram @ThatDragQueenSchwa.
Oh yeah, and Monteze is still single. Happy Holigays!
Claws Out: A Holiday Drag Musical. Streaming online December 4th – January 10th. Tickets start at $15; $50 for virtual holiday party/screenings. CityTheatreCompany.org