Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Interview with Dee Snider, Adam John Hunter, and John Yonover of Dee Snider's Rock & Roll Christmas Tale

I had fun interviewing some of the people who are working on Dee Snider's Rock & Roll Christmas Tale. You can go and see it from November 4, 2014 to January 4th, 2015 at The Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in downtown Chicago.

Ada Grey: I’m here with Dee Snider the writer/star of Dee Snider’s Rock & Roll Christmas Tale. Thanks for talking to me. I have a few questions for you. I know you were involved with the Rock of Ages musical. I saw it when it was in Chicago last time.

Dee Snider: Did you? I’m glad you didn’t see the movie. The movie’s terrible!

Ada Grey: (Laughs.) I have a question for you. Were the 80s really like that?

Dee Snider: (Laughs.) That is a good question! I guess, you know, in some ways, yes. In some ways, it’s exaggerated. I always think that when people who weren’t there look back at it, they just see a more romantic version—not meaning loving—they don’t see any of the bad things. They only see the fun good things. That reflected a lot of the fun good things and the craziness. But it’s an exaggeration. Nobody wants to see a show that shows you the bad stuff.

Ada Grey: Yeah.

Dee Snider: They just want a show that’s all fun and good, you know?

Ada Grey: Yeah. And what was your favorite part of the 80s?

Dee Snider: Favorite part of the 80s…well, besides having tremendous success in the 80s and the admiration of millions of people in the 80s…I always loved heavy metal music and it wasn’t really ever mainstream like something that you heard on the radio. It was always something that the fans knew about, but it wasn’t everywhere. And in the 80s there came a time where people started to accept that heavy metal could be cool, could be fun. And you started to hear it on the radio. I never expected to hear my songs because I was a heavy metal guy. And all of a sudden I had hit records! So, that the music I loved finally became accepted by the world was my favorite part.

Ada Grey: Awesome! …So what is your favorite song that you wrote?

Dee Snider: That’s funny. My favorite song that I wrote was a song that was never released called “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.” But nobody knows it. So a better question is “What is my favorite Twisted Sister song?” because I wrote every Twisted Sister song. And you would think I would say, “I Wanna Rock” or “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and I love those songs because they were so popular. But there is a Twisted Sister song called “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll” which is actually in the show, is in Rock & Roll Christmas Tale. And that one I think defines my band better than the ones people know us for.

Ada Grey: I heard that you did Titus Andronicus with puppets? Do you like Shakespeare?

Dee Snider: Actually, my son Shane—I have three sons and a daughter—he’s involved with Puppet Shakespeare. And no, I don’t like Shakespeare, and that’s why I’m so excited and trying to help my son. Besides that he’s my son, I said, “This show is great! You don’t have to like Shakespeare and it makes you enjoy Shakespeare” because Shakespeare can sometimes be kind of confusing and a little hard, but they mix real Shakespeare actors with comedian puppets. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Shakespeare…

Ada Grey: Yes.

Dee Snider: Well, I don’t know about you, but it makes me go, “What’s going on?” But the puppets will actually stop and talk to the audience in not-Shakespeare, and they’ll say, “And that means he’s this,” and that helps the audience appreciate the Shakespeare better. So, I’ve been producing the show and it’s doing really well. They did one month off-Broadway and they got a five-star New York Times review, which is great, so we think that, hopefully, that eventually the whole country is eventually going to get to see Puppet Shakespeare.

Ada Grey: Awesome! What is your favorite part of Rock & Roll Christmas Tale?

Dee Snider: I think my favorite part is the exorcism (both laugh) because I’m the exorcist. I play the narrator in the show and for the most part I sit and I tell the story in-between, you know, like a narrator—you’ve seen narrators before. But in one part of the show the band tries to exorcise the spirit of Christmas because it’s not metal. So they hire an exorcist and I come in all serious, and then they go, “Yes, we want you to exorcise the spirit of Christmas.” And I’m like, “Wait! What?” And so I have to do an exorcism that gets rid of the Christmas spirit, so it is very funny and I get to really be a ham.

Ada Grey: Awesome!

Dee Snider: “The power of Rock compels you!” and I’m screaming and there’s a lot of yelling, so I have fun!

Ada Grey: Awesome! So, I watched a few Twisted Sister videos and it seems like you don’t really like authority figures very much. Do you think that any kind of authority should be allowed?

Dee Snider: You know, that’s a point…. (Laughs.) Who are you? How old are you really? You’re in your 40s?

Ada Grey: I’m 10!

Dee Snider: You’re not fooling anybody, Miss…Ma’am. Ok. When I was younger I wrote “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and it was standing up to my parents, my teachers, my bosses, my ex-girlfriend. All people who said I couldn’t do what I wanted to do and couldn’t achieve what I wanted to achieve, and that’s what the song meant to me. And it is certainly an anthem of rebellion and anti-authority for sure. That does not mean that I believe there should not be any kind of authority. My dad was a policeman and he also fought in the Korean War. We need structure, no doubt. But there are times, we’re seeing it right now in Hong Kong where people are protesting because their democratic rights are going to be taken away, and so sometimes we have to stand up to authority. I went to Washington to fight censorship in the 80s, and they were questioning “We’re Not Gonna Take It” because it was anti-authority, and I said, “There was a time when our forefathers George Washington and Benjamin Franklin and all those great people, they were anti-authority against the British. You know, they were saying ‘We’re not gonna take it anymore.’” Sometimes we need to stand up, but it doesn’t mean I am against authority.

Ada Grey: What was the process like writing your latest show, Rock & Roll Christmas Tale?

Dee Snider: It was very long because it didn’t start out as a musical initially. The original idea was to do what they call a concept album. A concept album is where you do a bunch of songs and they tell a story. And I wanted to do it with my band and have some acting in between, but it was designed to be a concert experience, not a musical in the traditional sense. So, when I went and did Rock of Ages, Adam Hunter was my director, and I asked him to take a look at my story for the concept album, and he came back and said, “A) This is a musical and B) I want to direct it.” And I said, “You really think so?” And he said, “Yeah, you got to flesh it out” because musicals have certain things they need to have to be more traditional like choreography and things like that. But he says, “This is a great musical.” So at that point I went from thinking “I’m writing a concept album for my band” to “I’m writing a musical.” So it was process. I met Hunter in 2010 and we started working together and then we met with producers and went from there. So it has been a process. A learning process, too. You know, sometimes we don’t know how to do something, but we shouldn’t be afraid to try just because we don’t know how. There’s got to be a YouTube video showing how to do it somewhere! They show you how to do everything!

Ada Grey: Yeah! What is your favorite part of rehearsal?

Dee Snider: My favorite part of rehearsal is getting to watch my words being brought to life before my eyes, which is just incredible—to have an idea in your head, and then put it on a piece of paper which is an inanimate object, and then see these great actors and actresses make it live. It’s like a dream, quite honestly. It’s really like a dream.


Ada Grey: I’m here with Adam John Hunter, the director of Dee Snider’s Rock & Roll Christmas Tale. Thanks for talking to me. I have a few questions for you. I know you and Dee Snider were both involved in Rock of Ages. I saw it in Chicago when it was here last time, and I have a question for you. Were the 80s really like that?

Adam John Hunter: (Laughs.) My perceptions of the 80s were certainly like that. I think what Rock of Ages was able to do was…you know as we get older our idea of what the past was gets a little rosier, a little shiner than maybe it actually was…and that is what we were able to do with Rock of Ages, make people feel like it was the 80s but kind of gloss over some of the stuff you might not want to remember from your past.

Ada Grey: What was your favorite part of the 80s?

Adam John Hunter: My favorite part of the 80s was probably when I got a Sit ‘n Spin for Christmas. I was probably 7 years old. It was 1982 and it was like the best thing ever when I got my Sit ‘n Spin. That was my favorite part of the 80s.

Ada Grey: (Laughs.) Awesome! What was the process like working on Rock & Roll Christmas Tale with Dee Snider?

Adam John Hunter: When I met Dee Snider it blew my mind to meet a guy who you have such a strong feeling about from his public image. You know, he’s got this big-hair, crazy make-up, and you think, “Oh. I know who that guy is.” And then you meet that person and you’re like, “Oh. He’s not that. He’s been doing this thing, he has a stage persona, and he’s this incredible guy.” So the process of working with Dee has just been eye-opening and enlightening and he’s written a real musical. Dee Snider, that guy we think of as “We’re Not Gonna Take It” has actually sat down and written a musical. It has been a long process, but they always are. It has been exciting to give him suggestions and let it go through Dee Snider’s mind and come back out and go, “Oh my gosh, that’s really exciting!”

Ada Grey: What is your favorite part of rehearsal?

Adam John Hunter: My favorite part of rehearsal is working with the actors, talking with the actors and making suggestions and having conversations with them and getting to understand the story of the show that I’m working on from somebody else’s perspective because I spend a lot of time reading myself and making plans, the “master plan,” and I have to be willing to let that break down when you introduce the actors into the process. So having them come in and have their suggestions and watching it get bigger and bigger and turning into something even better than I could imagine, that’s definitely my favorite part.

Ada Grey: Does Dee Snider ever throw you out a window when you tell him what to do in rehearsal?

Adam John Hunter: (Laughs.) Not yet. Not yet. But we are on the ground floor. So that could happen. That could still happen. It is not outside the realm.


Ada Grey: I’m here with John Yonover the producer of Dee Snider’s Rock & Roll Christmas Tale. Thanks for talking with me. Let’s start with you telling me what a producer does for a show.

John Yonover: There are two things we can do. One, we can pick which projects we want to do and, two, when we will close them. That’s really the only choices that we have. So, I get a lot of scripts, and I pick the ones I like. My big job is to find money. Theater is very expensive, this show cost over a million dollars, so I have to go out and find people who are going to give me money. (Both laugh.) And when people give me money for theater, it is not a particularly good investment. So, if you said to me, “John, I would really like to make some money, should I invest in the theater?” I would say, “No. Not so much. You should put that money in stocks or you should put that money in a savings account” because seventy-five percent of the time, they lose money. So it takes a special kind of knucklehead to want to be a producer, right? You have to find money and you’re not going to give people much of an opportunity to get their money back. But when you do give their money back, like when you’ve got a show like Motown or Jersey Boys or WickedWicked by far, probably the most successful Broadway show ever—then they make a bunch of money. So what we say on Broadway is, “You can’t make a living, but you can make a killing!” So, that’s my job as a producer.

Ada Grey: What made you think, “Dee Snider has to be in this show.”

John Yonover: Well, when I first read the script, Dee was intending not to be in the show. He wanted to write it and then watch it go up. And I said, “You know, Dee, you need to be in the show because it’s your show.” When you produce theater without a brand, it is even more difficult. Think about Motown, for example. Motown is a brand. You know those records. You know Michael Jackson or you know the Jackson Five. So there is an immediate understanding: Oh, I know that! If I said to you, “Rock & Roll Christmas Tale” or “Wicked” which are you going to go to? You’re going to go to Wicked because you’re going to say, “So what’s that other show? I’m not going to spend my hard-earned money on a show I don’t know anything about.” But if Dee Snider is in it and you’re a Dee Snider fan, you say, “Oh, I like this. I’m going to check that out.” Having Dee above the title brings another audience to our show.

Ada Grey: What is the hardest decision you have to make as a producer?

John Yonover: The hardest decision is to find people you really want to work with. Call it the lunch test. Really, it wasn’t my creation. It was a friend of mine who is a very successful producer. It is called the lunch test, and, Ada, what that is is you take somebody out to lunch and you have a really good lunch, and you really like them, and you want to go out to lunch with them again. If you don’t want to go out to lunch with them again, you probably don’t want to work with them. And so Dee, for me, passed the lunch, breakfast, and dinner test because we really got along instantly. We are very similar people. He’s a dad; I’m a dad. He’s a grandpa; I’m not yet a grandpa. But he’s married 38 years; I’m married 27 years. We are very similar people. And when you work with people that you really like, great things happen! So that was the first connection, and then Adam, our director, he was friends with Dee from Rock of Ages, and he came into the project. And so it all just happens. But each of these guys, for me, had to go through the lunch test.

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