For SF LGBTQ theater, it's a Kinsey Sicks Christmas

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 29, 2022
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The Kinsey Sicks will bring "Oy Vey in a Manger" to the New Conservatory Theatre Center in December. Photo: Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
The Kinsey Sicks will bring "Oy Vey in a Manger" to the New Conservatory Theatre Center in December. Photo: Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee

Nearly two decades after the Kinsey Sicks debuted their Christmas show "Oy Vey in a Manger" at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, the dragapella group is bringing it back to the LGBTQ nonprofit arts organization for a yuletide residency this year. The leader of the San Francisco theater hopes it becomes a new holiday tradition, albeit on an alternating calendar year basis.

"We are hoping for that," said New Conservatory artistic director Ed Decker, who founded the theater in 1981. "They do the show every other year at Theater J in Washington, D.C."

The Jewish theater presented the long-running holiday show last December as part of its 2021-2022 season. It will be presented at New Conservatory this holiday season from December 7 through December 31 as part of its 2022-2023 season.

"We're very excited about settling the show here for a month. I know folks that know them are going to be very excited," said Decker, who believes the holiday musical will also attract a new generation of fans for the Kinsey Sicks. "We want to introduce them to younger audiences coming to NCTC now and help them build their new following."

This is the first time the Kinsey Sicks has performed the show in San Francisco since December 2017. That year the group staged it at a venue in North Beach.

"I love this show. I absolutely think it is one of the best shows we have ever done," said Jeff Manabat, a gay man who has performed as Trixie with the quartet since 2004. "I am excited every time we do it. It is always fresh. We always update our shows wherever we go and something topical reaches the zeitgeist.'

According to Decker, the Kinsey Sicks first mounted "Oy Vey in a Manger" at New Conservatory in 2003. It was such a hit, they brought it back the following year.

A blurb about the 2004 production noted it was "guaranteed to stamp out holiday cheer! Now in its second year at NCTC, the show will premiere new songs sensibly excluded from last year's production." Co-founder of the group Ben Schatz, who had performed as Rachel until his retirement in 2019, wrote the show's musical parodies.

Manabat remembers seeing the show in 2003 right before he became a member of the Kinsey Sicks, which initially formed as a group in 1993. Other than in 2020, when they were "all homebound" due to the COVID pandemic, Manabat told the Bay Area Reporter he is pretty sure the group has performed "Oy Vey in a Manger" every year.

The core storyline remains the same, with the members of the group trying to sell off their manger — "yes, that manger — before it's foreclosed upon," as their promotional materials for the holiday comedy explain. Along the way they perform their own "heretical" versions of beloved holiday songs, noted Manabat, who grew up in San Francisco but has called Los Angeles home since 2008.

"Some people are just howling with laughter by what we can get away with," he said. "I may be getting older, but the show itself does not get old. It is an evergreen show whenever and wherever it performs. People in San Francisco are especially delighted for it to return."

Because the show is so beloved among the group's fans, they try to schedule as many performances of it as possible during the holiday season. They are still deciding if they will mount performances of it before bringing it to New Conservancy in December.

"We might do it outside of the Bay Area this year but that's not finalized," said Nathan Marken, a queer man who joined the group in 2014 and portrays Winnie. "Because the show is only done during a certain season, we try to pack in as many performances as we can. It is such a crowd pleaser."

The other two members of the quartet are J.B. McLendon, who performs as Angel, and Spencer Brown, who personifies the character Trampolina. Brown has been with the Kinsey Sicks since 2008, while McLendon joined in 2019.

Where the 2023 holiday run of the show will be is likely to be locked down by the end of the year, said Marken. Asked about Decker saying he would like it to become a rotating holiday tradition for New Conservatory, Marken didn't exactly rule it out.

"Thank you, Ed! We look forward to seeing you in 2024," he quipped.

The group routinely looks at the show's script to see where they can bring in topical references. For example, jokes about the Trump administration were added in 2016 and remained through the four years he was in the White House.

"The onus is on us to jazz it up and bring it fresh every time," said Marken. "We have been looking at this year's version of the show, but the basic premise of selling off the manger is still there."

The plot, joked Marken, "is as well-defined as are our eyebrows. It will still be a lot of fun."

The New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco will feature a December residency of the Kinsey Sicks. Photo: Courtesy Instagram  

'Avenue Q' exits stage left
In reaching a deal with the Kinsey Sicks to do a month-long residency at New Conservatory, Decker told the B.A.R. the theater was looking to replicate the success it had for years with the raunchy musical "Avenue Q." As the B.A.R. noted in a 2017 story, the Tony Award-winning production had turned into a yearly hit for the LGBTQ theater as an offbeat counterprogramming option against typical yuletide theatrical fare like "The Nutcracker" or "A Christmas Carol."

First mounted in 2013 as New Conservatory's Christmas season offering, the cast of trash-talking puppets was such a hit the show's initial five-week run sold out and was extended for two weeks. A similar reaction met the 2014 production, leading "Avenue Q" to become a Christmas mainstay at NCTC through 2018.

"I was starting to feel as though, by the end of our run, the piece was a little dated," said Decker. "I kept thinking audiences would feel that way too and they just kept not feeling that way."

Nonetheless, New Conservatory lowered the curtain for good on the show and mounted in 2019 as its Christmas showcase a production of "Head Over Heels," the musical based on songs by the Go-Gos created by Jeff Whitty, who had won the 2004 Tony Award for best book of a musical for "Avenue Q."

"We reckoned it was time for a switch," said Decker. "We did it for six years."

Plus, added Decker, the rights for "Avenue Q" became unavailable as plans were in the works for a national tour of the show, which premiered in 2003.

For its 2020 holiday musical, New Conservatory had planned to mount a production of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." But it was unable to present the show amid the ongoing COVID pandemic, which had ended live performances at the theater that year starting in March.

This past Christmas, instead of doing a featured musical, New Conservatory opted instead to mount Martin Sherman's play "Gently Down the Stream" about a gay May-December romance. Unfortunately, due to cast members catching COVID, the show was forced to end earlier than scheduled.

"'Gently Down the Stream' was one of the shows we had to close a week early because of illness in the cast," said Decker. "It was the first show this season we closed early for COVID."

As they turn their attention to the upcoming season, which officially kicks off in September, New Conservatory will be asking Santa to bring them a safe and sold out run of "Oy Vey in a Manger" for Christmas this year.

"I am very excited about this year's Christmas show! The Kinsey Sicks have quite a history at NCTC," noted Decker.

Plus, their holiday show is just as offbeat and skewering of beloved tropes as "Avenue Q." Instead of sending up children's puppet shows, the Kinsey Sicks aim their satirical prowess at the Virgin Mary, the birth of Jesus, and the oxymoronic Wise Men, noted Marken.

"It is naughty, bawdy, and very uncouth," he said.

Added Manabat, "It is also incredibly intelligent."

To learn more about the show and to purchase tickets, click here.

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