City Theatre’s ‘Claws Out’ Rips a New Path to Holiday Cheer

Writer/performer Shua Potter nails it in 'Claws Out.' (photo: Kristi Jan Hoover)

Writer/performer Shua Potter nails it in ‘Claws Out.’ (photo: Kristi Jan Hoover)

Great ideas have the feeling of inevitability. And few things seem greater or more inevitable than a holiday-themed musical played in drag. Claws Out: The Holiday Drag Musical—created by a team of Pittsburgh all-stars, and bearing a title that plays mercilessly upon the name of a certain Claus—is on the web for on-demand viewing through January 10. Produced by City Theatre, the (pre-recorded) streaming show was written by Monteze Freeland and Shua Potter, with music by Douglas Levine. Better yet, all three perform, including composer/conductor Levine who is usually closeted behind the scenes.

As for the plot: Such a thing is not strictly required in productions of this nature, but Claws Out has one. It involves Mrs. Rachel Claus, whose makeover of the North Pole is threatened by a clause in her contract that allows a hussy named Roberta to take over the makeover. Carole Claus and Blitzen figure into the story as well, and so does Devontay. All parts are played with flamboyant musical mirth.

A show like Claws Out also doesn’t need a reason for being, but Monteze Freeland (who co-directed with City’s Marc Masterson) provided one anyway. Given the trying year that 2020 has been, “the moments I choose to remember are those that made me laugh,” Freeland said in the musical’s release notice. “So, I want others to feel that silly smile creep up and enjoy a small break from the world. Claws Out is fun, shady, campy, bawdy, and familiar. It’s original but full of iconic pop-culture references that only drag queens can resurrect with no shame. Grab your favorite auntie and have a good time with us this holiday season!”

Here’s how to do it. Buy a digital ticket at a price of your choice, as long as it’s $15 or more per household, and anyone with whom you cohabit can watch any time until the show turns into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight January 10. Tickets are also available for live, interactive virtual events to be streamed in conjunction with the show on December 5, 8, 12, and 19 at $50 per, except for the one on the 8th which is pay what you want, period. 

Along with fun and games, each live event highlights the work of organizations that support Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ+ community. City Theatre’s ongoing City Connects program includes partner orgs PGH Equality Center, True T PGH, and Proud Haven.

Claws Out was filmed at WQED and Steeltown Entertainment, with a production team equal in star power to the writer/performers. Scenic design is by Tony Ferrieri, lighting by Frank Warninsky, and sound by Howard Patterson. Mickey Miller was the videographer, with Caite Hevner doing video design and editing. Clare Drobot served as, don’t let the word scare you, dramaturg. Costumes are by Madison Hack, makeup by Tru Verret Fleming and Shua Potter, and wigs—very important—by Potter, Hack, and Cheryl El-Walker. Guitarist is Ken Karsh and the production coordinator, who pulled together the whole affair, is Ryan Looke.

Mike Vargo, a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer, covers theater for Entertainment Central.