On a chilly evening at the Albuquerque Social Club, Matthew Bubb helps a cast member of The Joan Crawford/Marilyn Monroe Christmas Carol select a costume. "Now, I don't care if you are hairy," he says, holding up an iridescent mini-dress with aqua, silver and gold sequins. "We can put a big necklace on you, but honestly, I don't care if Jayne Mansfield has a hairy chest."
Details are usually Matthew's strong suit, but after more than a decade of co-writing, co-staging and co-starring in devastatingly funny, feature-length theatrical productions, you learn to choose your battles. And with another opening night just around the corner, he can afford a few errant chest hairs.
It's a Doll's life, after all.
The Dolls, of course, are a drag performance troupe that stages up to eight original productions each year here in Albuquerque. Founders Matthew Bubb and Kenneth Ansloan write all the material themselves and function as the creative and physical heart of the operation. About 15 other people are also involved at any given time, united by a love of theater, wry wit and old Hollywood glamour long erased by the Lindsay Lohan set. Matthew calls it a "stone soup" ensemble.
"All of these people, in heels or not, move props and set pieces," he says. "If a costume gets ripped, Patti sews it; if a lamp is broken, Dean glues it." Dean Eldon Squibb, acclaimed Albuquerque thespian and longtime Doll, agrees. "There's not a single person you can do without. The cacophony of talent never runs dry."
Throughout their 10-year run in Albuquerque, The Dolls have packed theaters such as the KiMo, South Broadway Cultural Center and the Vortex with a diverse audience of gay and straight, young and old. They attribute part of their success to satirizing everyone equally--even themselves.
"Something we always try to keep in mind with our writing is that when you poke fun, everything is fair game," Kenneth says. "There has to be a love involved, so that humor doesn't come across as nasty or filled with hate."
That, and when you're a man dressed as a woman, you just tend to get away with more. "For some reason if you are a female impersonator--I don't know if it is like a child doing it--it doesn't offend people to the same degree," Matthew says. "The older women love it, it just tickles them to death. And you know if a guy was up there waving a dildo, they'd be horrified!"
When the Vortex lights come up on The Dolls' 10th Christmas show, Matthew will have magically transformed into Marilyn Monroe, and Kenneth into Joan Crawford. Like Christmas shows of the past, The Joan Crawford/Marilyn Monroe Christmas Carol will be an homage to the Christmas specials that lit up people's television screens during the late ’50s and early ’60s.
"It was very popular of the time," Kenneth says. "Most of the stars did it, and it was always them inviting you into their homes. These guests would just mysteriously appear, like Frank Sinatra, and the host would give them eggnog and they would sing songs."
This year's show features co-hosts Joan and Marilyn in a Christmas program shot from Joan's boudoir, interspersed with backstage hijinks, a comic reinterpretation of A Christmas Carol and plenty of celebrity guests (including a drunken Julia Child, the ghost of Bette Davis, Lana Turner and Liberace). Stay tuned for big, beautiful wigs, vintage couture gowns, obscure musical gems and some truly twisted holiday cheer.
Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails, Part One, Two and Three (Capitol)-- Various Artists
Absolutely essential listening, the coolest of the cool from Dean Martin to Peggy Lee.
This 1967 Christmas recording from Babs--a Jewish girl from Williamsburg, Brooklyn--is about as kitschy as it comes.
Merry From Lena (Razor & Tie) Lena Horne
Originally released in 1966, this reissue shines especially bright in Ms. Horne's inimitable "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer'
A very merry Rupaul remake of classic holiday songs, including her rendition of Dolly Parton's classic "Hard Candy Christmas," used in this year's Dolls Christmas show.
Homo for the Holidays (Ring Records) -- The Go-Go Boys
Celebrate your love for your fellow man this Christmas with clever, sometimes explicit lyrics on the the joys of being queer.
You see, it's cats "singing" all your favorite holiday tunes. Give in. You know you want to.
Firestone presents Your Christmas Favorites (FTP Records) -- Various Artists
Christmas Collection (A&M) -- Carpenters
Beautifully melancholic and clear as a December night, Karen Carpenter's voice perfectly hits an often-uncelebrated mood of the season.