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Hollywood Vampires, Johnny Depp wows, engages audience

Sharlene Celeskey, Contemporary Culture Editor, Puma Press

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Alice Cooper’s 15th Annual Christmas Pudding returned this year to the Celebrity Theater, where the show debuted in 2001.  It was a very different show from the ones I attended at the larger Comerica Theater in downtown Phoenix. What were the highlights and lows of this show? Did it work in a smaller intimate theater?  Was the entertainment as good as in the past? Was it successful as a fundraiser in a venue with half the usual seating?

Christmas Pudding is always entertaining, but its purpose is to raise money for Alice and Sheryl Cooper’s Solid Rock Teen Foundation. Every year Alice assembles musicians, friends, family, a magician and others to throw the Christmas party of the year. The concert also showcases the talents of the teen center students. The dance students are featured in several dance sequences at the beginning. The finalists (one solo artist and one group) from the “The Proof is in the Pudding,” competition for young musicians also performs at the event.  Items are auctioned off during the event to raise further funds for the teen center where are all music and dance lessons are free.

The draw this year was the headliner: The Hollywood Vampires.  Fronted and formed by Alice, this celebrity bar band sings classic rock songs made famous by mostly dead partying musicians. The band consists of some of Alice’s fellow musicians and friends. Both Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and actor Johnny Depp played guitar. I have wanted to see this band since 2015, but they have never performed here. When they hit the stage, a high level of excitement swept everyone in the theater. Hollywood Vampire’s performance of songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s was inspired, electrifying and was spot on with combining extraordinary musicianship with high energy and Alice’s powerful vocals. The wait was well worth it. 

Most improved was Depp. I saw Depp speak eight months earlier at ASU’s Gammage on “Finding the Creativity in Madness,” and although he was engaging and very candid, he was rather a nervous mess.  When Depp performed as guest guitarist during 2014’s “Christmas Pudding,” he seemed extremely shy and stayed in the background. I was pleasantly surprised to see how dramatically Depp had changed since he became an intricate and important part of the Hollywood Vampires. His stellar performance tonight proved he is more than just a quirky actor but is also an impressive and superb guitarist. This year, auctioned items including a Johnny Depp autographed signature Duesenberg guitar and various paintings of the actor, set an all-time record. Depp came on stage for the auctions and shook hands with fans in the front rows and talked to those on stage. 

Moving to the Celebrity Theater was a welcome change, as this year’s show seemed more intimate with a better view of the stage than the larger Comerica Theatre. I had a clear view of the performances and felt the entire experience instead of being just a spectator far away. 

Booking Korn for Christmas Pudding was also a plus.  Listening to their nu- metal music in the Celebrity Theater was mind blowing. It was fun to watch all the metal fans head banging, too. The band also brought a raw energy to the show.

Although I never was a big Gin Blossoms fan, I loved seeing one of Phoenix’s most successful bands perform. They appeared so happy and excited to be part of the Christmas Pudding experience. The positivity was catching and I smiled through the set and enjoyed the beautiful voice of front man Robin Wilson. 

Murrary Sawchuck, the Las Vegas magician was back this year and his offbeat humor as always was enjoyable. He added just the right touch of humor to the show. 

The performances of the, “Proof is in the Pudding,” contest winners were another highlight of the concert. I had seen two of their previous contest performances, and that night they never sounded better. Lauren Case, the soloist winner, definitely turned it up a notched when she sang, “Dream On.”  I was thrilled to watch Vintage Wednesday perform with an abundance of passion, energy and musical precision. They proved they owned the stage.

The Solid Rock student dancers performed their sets early, and they were very short. I always look forward to seeing the talent that comes out of the teen center, but this year they were on and off so quickly, I did not get to see their accomplishments. It was a bit disappointing.

If there had been a best-dressed award it would have gone to the one of the MC’s for the dance numbers. Designer and PVCC student, Alex Sanchez, looked like his had just stepped out of L’Uomo Vogue. His stunning grey silk suit fit him perfectly while his long dark hair gave him an edgy look.

The biggest disappointment of the evening was the long drawn out set by classic rocker and former Van Halen front man Sammy Hagar.  His show became tedious and boring very quickly.  His one good song from his solo career, “I Can’t Drive 55” was missing from his set.  Christmas Pudding is a family show and Hagar’s crude comments and constant cussing were out of place.  He is almost 70 and what was acceptable behavior during the ‘70’s concerts is now out of style.  Shame on Sammy!

Overall this year’s Christmas Pudding was a huge success and delightfully entertaining.  It featured a solid variety of musical entertainment and the bands sounded perfect in the smaller venue.  And the money raised exceeded all other shows. 

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Hollywood Vampires, Johnny Depp wows, engages audience