The Boston Phoenix
December 1998


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Big-hair fun

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 music?

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 lesbians have.

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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