The San Francisco Symphony transformed into a winter wonderland Dec. 17 with the return of its dazzling show, “Holiday Gaiety,” co-hosted by conductor Edwin Outwater and famed San Fransciscan drag queen, Peaches Christ. Taking classic holiday cheer and elevating its bravado, the concert was an unapologetic celebration of queer culture and talent, ensuring that the love of the holiday season meant love for all.
Before the music had even begun, the festivities began outside of the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall as audience members arrived wearing platform heels, head-to-toe glitter, polka dots and every other holiday extravaganza imaginable. That night, the only group bold enough to outdress the attendees was the performers onstage in full drag — an Armani suit would have felt underdressed.
After Outwater and the San Francisco Symphony transformed “Jingle Bells” into something triumphant, Peaches Christ strutted onstage in a sequined Mrs. Claus gown, a vision in red and white. Quickly established as “the world’s gayest orchestra concert” by Outwater, the tone for the night was set. The hall oozed pride and joy as a slew of queer performers took turns in the spotlight to share their talents with the crowd in between a cheeky joke or two.
Modeled after the midcentury Christmas TV specials made popular by Judy Garland, a glitzy living room set adorned with a ruby red settee and wet bar accompanied the musicians onstage. Drag queen Thorgy Thor was the first welcomed onstage performer, delivering a side-splitting reading of her strangest Cameo requests. Before leaving the stage, she joined in with the symphony, tiptoeing from the violin section to the cello section in a Grinch-esque jaunt, her airy and joyous attitude contrasting her effortless mastery of the two instruments.
After a positively charming dance break by the sparkling Fou Fou Ha!, the lovable Coco Peru entered stage right to perform her version of “Silent Night.” While Peru cannot help but bring a hilarious and endearing light to everything she does, the retelling of the Christmas classic drove home the heart of the event. Between the insistences that the city should be called “SF” or “San Francisco,” but never “San Fran,” was a love letter to gay culture within the city and beyond, emphasizing survival and unabashed love.
Following the intermission was a segment only possible at “Holiday Gaiety” — an orchestral “Vogue” by Madonna scoring an “impromptu” vogue battle between drag queens Kylie Minono and Sister Roma. As volunteers from the audience and voguer Jocquese Whitfield sashayed across the stage, the famed list of models name-dropped in the song projected above the performers, encouraging a singalong from the crowd. The battle culminated in a marriage proposal between two of the men onstage that made the audience cheer, furthering its excitement for the show.
Though each performer was brilliant in their own right, the house was brought down by two vocalists, Jamie Barton and Jimmie Herrod. Barton, an openly bisexual opera singer with a half-shaved head, was completely radiant in her gown, captivating the audience with her emotive performance. After years of filling opera halls with her charm and dramatic prowess, it is no surprise that Barton brought the same allure to the symphony. Barton’s rendition of “Surabaya-Santa,”a song told from the perspective of a woman in a tumultuous relationship with good old St. Nick, was melodramatic and ridiculous, but nonetheless completely spectacular.
Coming off of his golden-buzzer-earning run on “America’s Got Talent,” Herrod left no room for disappointment onstage. Even after blowing “Grown-Up Christmas List” and “Tomorrow” out of the water with his crystal clear tone, Herrod closed the show with Mariah Carey’s modern-day classic “All I Want for Christmas is You.” With crisp runs and high notes surpassing the bar set by Carey, Herrod’s performance was a spellbinding delight.
Filled to the brim with Technicolor love and cheer, San Francisco Symphony’s “Holiday Gaiety” captured the hearts of its audience, spreading holiday cheer built to last for the rest of the season.