Pittsburgh’s newest Christmas-themed show is a sequel of sorts.
“Claws Out: A Holiday Drag Musical” was inspired by “Santa’s TED Talk,” a short, cabaret-style solo show that debuted at City Theatre in 2019 as a complement to a production of "The Santaland Diaries." Drag performer Shua Potter played Rachel Claus, a hard-partying Jewish lady of a certain age from Queens who’d found herself hitched to the jolly guy at the North Pole.
Potter co-wrote “Santa’s TED Talk” with City Theatre associate producer Monteze Freeland. This year, the two teamed with composer Douglas Levine to craft a full-length show. It's streaming through Jan. 10.
The comedy finds Rachel challenged by an upstart: Roberta, played by Freeland, a school principal and church lady from North Carolina whom Santa invited to be his next wife. (It’s all explained in the clauses of the Mrs. Claus' contract.) The two divas are, so to speak, polar opposites: Rachel boasts of helping Santa cut weight, while Roberta plans to fatten him up with some home cooking.
But Rachel won’t go down without a catfight. The campy musical climaxes with a game-show-style competition to see who gets to be Mrs. Claus.
“Claws Out” was staged and pre-recorded on a green-screen set, so while Levine’s festive tunes showcase Potter and Freeland’s vocals, and the costumes glitter like tinsel, there’s also some special-effects magic. The show was co-directed by Freeland and City Theatre artistic director Marc Masterson.
“Claws Out,” by the way, is probably a bit salty for young children: more nightclub than “Night Before Christmas.” But Potter, a Pittsburgh-based performer who’s acted on Broadway, said drag has a lot in common with the holidays.
“The pageantry, and the bright colors, and the music and just the joyousness – I relate all of that to drag,” he said.
Freeland, a veteran of local stages, likes the idea of expanding what qualifies as holiday entertainment.
“The idea of doing a Christmas show and dueling Mrs. Clauses is great, but when you layer on the idea that they’re men and it’s drag, it just takes it to a whole new almost forbidden place, where is of course where I like to play around,” he said.