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A theatrical holiday tradition gives David Bowie a musical makeover

by Collin Friesen | The Frame

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The cast of "Little Drummer Bowie." Sasha A. Venola

This year’s holiday show at the Falcon Theater in Burbank is called "Little Drummer Bowie," and, as you can probably guess, it combines Christmas lyrics with David Bowie's music.

During one of the final rehearsals, the cast was working on the closing number under the eye of director Matt Walker, who joked about the reception they were going to receive.

“They’ll be throwing money and undergarments, try and keep a level head,” Walker said.

The Christmas show at the Falcon Theater has been going on since 2002 when they mounted
"A Christmas Carole King." And if you think it’s a simple matter of coming up with a title that includes a holiday theme and a popular musician, you’re not totally wrong.

“[We’ve done] 'It’s a Stevie Wonderful Life,'” Walker said.  “'Santa Clause is Coming to Motown,' 'It’s a Charlie James Brown Xmas,' 'Frosty the Snow Mantilow.'”

The cast of Troubadour Theater Company’s "Walkin’ in a Winter One-Hit-Wonderland" at the Falcon Theatre.
The cast of Troubadour Theater Company’s "Walkin’ in a Winter One-Hit-Wonderland" at the Falcon Theatre. Chelsea Sutton

But this show actually takes its inspiration from the stop-action animated TV special, "The Little Drummer Boy," that debuted back in 1968. Still set in the Middle East, it’s now a lot more about learning to be good to your fellow man than any manger-based miracle of birth. Joseph Leo Bwarie is Ziggy, the Bowie-inspired lead who had been playing Frankie Valli on Broadway before his old theater company called and asked if he wanted to come home for the holidays.

“Why does it work?” Bwarie asked.  “Because it’s a rule breaker, and people want to party. It's similar to when I was in 'Jersey Boys,' and people would come ready for a party and they knew they were gonna get it. And we deliver that too — this feeling of freedom and not thinking of anything else.”

And the show almost always sells out. If you’re looking for tickets to the 130-seat venue, your best bet is to call in January. And Lisa Valenzuela, who plays Ziggy’s mother, said once you take your seats, just be ready.

Anything goes. You have a cold, and you’re sneezing, we’re gonna bless you, because that’s the kind of people we are, regardless of what’s going on.

Leah Sprecher, Suzanne Jolie Narbonne, Darrin Revitz, and Lisa Valenzuela in Troubadour Theater Company’s "Santa Claus is Comin’ to Motown" at the Falcon Theatre.
Leah Sprecher, Suzanne Jolie Narbonne, Darrin Revitz, and Lisa Valenzuela in Troubadour Theater Company’s "Santa Claus is Comin’ to Motown" at the Falcon Theatre. Jill Mamey

But director Walker said their success is not just because of the show’s freewheeling approach. It’s also because they’ve become something that’s passed down not only generation-to-generation, but even neighbor-to-neighbor. 

We’ve seen families of four, who’ll bring their neighbors. We have an Orange County group that’ll rent a tour bus and bring 60 of their closets friends. It’s become an outing. People dress up and heckle us in a good natured, spirited way — sort of bring in the joy and yuletide craziness.

By the way, you will hear the music for David Bowie and Bing Crosby's "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth" duet in the show, but don’t expect to recognize a lot of lyrics. By changing up the words, the cast can belt out familiar tunes thanks to the fact that they’re considered parody. Which means not only can the show go on this year, but with record company lawyers at bay, there’ll likely be something new to come back for next season.

"Little Drummer Bowie" is at the Falcon Theater in Burbank through Jan. 15.

 

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