The triumphant return of the Paisley Sisters
by Christopher Muther
Stir together All About Eve with White Christmas, mix in a
mid-'60s Judy Garland television Christmas special, add a dash of
Silkwood, and you have The Paisley Sisters' Christmas Special.
The musical, written by local social worker Jim Ansart, photographer Joel
Benjamin, and pianist/conductor Bret Silverman, takes place in 1964 as
America's self-proclaimed songbirds, the Paisley Sisters, struggle to get
through their first color-TV holiday special. Connie Paisley tries to hold the
show together as sister Bonnie begins to go crazy, Lonnie struggles with a
broken heart, and scene-stealing niece Abigail threatens to upstage them all.
The show runs at the ICA Theater through January 2. One in Ten
recently spoke with Benjamin.
Q: How did three guys who had never written a show end up creating
The Paisley Sisters?
A: It started about six years ago. We were just writing a few songs for
maybe a revue. We just kept writing songs, and it kept multiplying into a real
show. The three of us really put the story together. The first time we did it
two years ago, we weren't really happy with it. We sent the whole script off to
Bret's brother. He really fleshed out the script and made the characters more
real. Since then, we've rewritten the script, and the characters are really
three-dimensional now. It's not as cartoonish as it was.
Q: The three of you come from different backgrounds and have
different skills. What did you each bring to the script?
A: Being Jewish, I see Christmas as an outsider. At some level you have
a different sense of what it's all about. I don't have any emotional attachment
to the holiday, but I worked in advertising for about 12 years. I worked on a
lot of Christmas campaigns. I had a sense of how to sell Christmas, and that's
what these sisters are doing, they're selling Christmas. I think Jim brings an
authentic, warm part of Christmas to it. He understands Christmas from the
insider's point of view, from enjoying and performing Christmas music. Bret
really brings a genius to the whole thing. I think Bret has a great overview of
the whole concept. Not just Christmas, but I think he understands the period
and the music of that time.
Q: Is it possible that anyone besides three gay men could have a
written a story revolving around catty sisters, big wigs, and kitschy
A: My thought is that in the '60s, Jewish humor was really coming out
in this country. It reached a public consciousness. I really think in the '90s
a lot of the humor is gay or lesbian humor. This show is shaped by that. It's
shaped by gay humor, although it's not a gay show per se. I think the humor in
it is an ironic, wry look at our culture that I think a lot of gays and
The Paisley Sisters' Christmas Special runs through January 2 at the
Institute of Contemporary Art, 955 Boylston Street, Boston. Curtain is
8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with a 2 p.m. Saturday
matinee. Tickets $26, $21 for seniors and students. Call (617) 931-2000.
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