Composer and lyricist Danny Elfman’s opening lyric to the now-classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas” might be the best way to explain what burlesque dancer and producer Remy Dee has in mind.
“Boys and girls of every age, wouldn’t you like to see something strange?”
A New Orleans area native, Dee believes the beloved, off-kilter seasonal show lends itself perfectly to a night of comic bump and grind.
“Its songs, its eccentric sensibilities and its colorful characters are all begging for burlesque. It allows me to combine my two favorite holidays in Halloween and Christmas and put them into a form that I adore.”
Based on Tim Burton’s bedtime story of a Christmas gone wrong, “Nightmare” tells the tale of Jack Skellington, The Pumpkin King of Halloween, who, growing bored of his seasonal work, decides to move out of his comfort zone, assuming the mantle of his physical opposite: Santa Claus.
Despite his best intentions, the support of an adoring Halloween Town and the love of a rag doll creation named Sally, Jack’s plans go terribly awry and almost wreck both seasons. However, because of his own insight and the love of his friends, Jack rallies and is able to save Christmas from the villainous hands of bug monster Oogie Boogie.
Directed by Henry Selick, the stop-motion animation film was a surprise hit for Disney and has become a popular staple for those whose seasonal sensibilities are a little off.
Dee includes herself among those enthusiasts.
“It’s a story about how people have to make their own mistakes and learn from them. As someone who works in a number of creative fields, it is a story close to my heart.”
The basic story is still intact. There are 12 routines, nicely matching up with the days of Christmas, with specific variety acts selected to neatly fit into the characters, including a fire-spinning Lydia Treats as the two-faced mayor of Halloween Town.
The evening, running just over an hour and half with an intermission, features talent from a number of burlesque troupes around town playing a familiar rogue’s gallery of sweetly morbid Burton-inspired denizens.
“This is the second time doing the show,” Dee said. “It’s a collaboration between myself, Reverend Spooky Le Strange’s Billion Dollar Baby Dolls, and Xena Zeitgeist’s Society of Sin.”
Holding a master of fine arts degree from the University of New Orleans in English professional writing, the singer, comedian and burlesque impresario sees herself less as a traditional producer and more of a guide for the evening.
“Our process is very collaborative. In some ways, it is almost like everyone is producing. Each of the acts, after being assigned a character, was encouraged to pick their own version of a character’s song from either the movie or a cover of that song.”
“From that point, I simply worked on fixing the order and giving routine input.”
Assisting Dee in “Making Christmas,” the show features the talents of, among others, Richard Gallant (Shadowbox proprietor Richard Mayer) as Santa Claus, The Reverend Spooky Le Strange as his faithful ghostly dog Zero, and Perse Fanny as The Pumpkin King Jack.
And Dee herself? She is in the role of the nefarious Oogie Boogie.
“My version is less creepy-crawly and more a Vegas showgirl. The potato sack filled with bugs is gone, since that doesn’t exactly fit the mold of burlesque.”
Instead, Dee was inspired by the villain’s hideout with its love of garish lights, intricate traps and game-of-chance imagery.
“The bug man has been replaced by the image of a ‘Queenpin’ in her lair.”
Jim Fitzmorris writes about theater. He can be reached at email@example.com.