Solstice space oddity

By Brianna Wellen

It’s that time of year again when renditions of “A Christmas Carol” and “The Nutcracker” grace Chicago’s stages. For those who would rather dream of ’70s rock icons than sugar plums, a new holiday show has arrived celebrating the winter solstice with all the glitter and glam of Ziggy Stardust.

New Millennium Theatre Company’s “The David Bowie Hepzikat Funky Velvet Flarney Solstice Spectacular Live … From Space!” chronicles what might have been Bowie’s unaired 1977 Christmas special. Set as an old-fashioned variety show special, Bowie’s closest friends, Mick Jagger, Annie Lennox, Iggy Pop, Marianne Faithful and a few other uninvited guests, join the star on the Spiders from Mars Space Station for a solstice celebration.

The script comes from the mind of director Steven Attanasie Jr., who parodies Bowie’s songs as Christmas carols and incorporates the character’s styles into classic holiday tunes. Sprinkling jabs at the characters’ sexuality, drug abuse and career failings throughout a free-form plot, Attanasie brings both subtle humor and slapstick to his stream of consciousness musical.

Characters are haphazardly introduced through a series of videos and snippets of songs which stop short before really hitting their mark, such the opening group number “Let’s Dance.” It’s as if the audience warms up with the cast; once the actors get into the swing of things, the audience accepts that they can enjoy the show even if they don’t understand it. As Bowie (Michael Sherwin) later points out when told he doesn’t make any sense: “When did that become a concern?”

Cast members offer up hilarious impersonations of their rock star personas. Playing Pop, Alex Reynolds rolls around shirtless on the floor while singing. A short appearance by Sean Harklerode as Bing Crosby was spot on, and the mystical character Bizzaro Bowie (Matt Russell) incorporated signature Bowie characteristics into his fictional space character who is out to get David Bowie.

The standout performance, outshining Bowie in his own Christmas special, was Kyle Greer as the Ghost of Past, Present and Future Freddie Mercury. He hilariously glides through three separate personas of the Queen frontman and he has a voice that rivals the range and power of the actual Mercury. Wandering through the audience with the showstopping duet “Under Pressure” (thankfully sung in its entirety), Greer eerily channels him.

As the show moves along, there is a sense the cast members are making it up as they go, surprising themselves and each other with last-minute quips. They seem to challenge whoever is manning the sound booth to keep up with them. The nonsensical story and nature of the characters leave the possibility of each plot twist and musical number completely up in the air; anything can and will happen. It is this energy and the feeling that cast members are genuinely enjoying themselves that make the show engaging.

It’s important to note: This show is not for everyone. A knowledge and appreciation of Bowie is a must for total enjoyment, and more obscure ’70s pop cultural references may go over some people’s heads. When stepping into the world of the Spiders from Mars Space Station, it should be understood all logic, structure and reality are left behind for the sake of entertainment.

For those looking to have a “hepzikat” holiday, put on something spacey and take the bizarre ride that is David Bowie’s Christmas Special 1977.

“The David Bowie Hepzikat Funky Velvet Flarney Solstice Spectacular Live … From Space!” is playing at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., on Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 p.m. through Dec. 27. Tickets are $17 in advance and $20 at the door. For more information,