Redecking the halls

Never tamper with success are guiding words for many folks, but not Robert Dennick Joki.

No show created by the Youngstown playwright / songwriter / performer has been more successful than “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas,” which started as a popular fundraiser at the Oakland Center for the Arts and now fills the Calvin Center, where Joki’s Rust Belt Theater Company is based.

But while the basic premise and structure stay the same, Joki can’t stop tinkering with his Christmas treat, now in its eighth year.

“It would be very boring for me (otherwise),” Joki said. “After year three at the Oakland, I didn’t want to do it any more. We were just adding more performers. People still wanted to see it, but it just wasn’t fun for me.”

Joki stars as Starrlet O’Hara, a Christmas-hating drag queen who, in a drug-addled haze, is visited by her once-conjoined twin and the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future in the spoof of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

This year’s production gets the biggest overhaul yet, somewhat out of necessity.

Along with Joki, the only other actor who has been a part of the show since the beginning is Murad Shorrab, but work conflicts kept him from being able to participate this year.

“Over the years, his dialogue became about 50 percent of the show,” Joki said. “It was just too hard to find someone to fill his shoes, his size 16 shoes. So I ended up retooling the dialogue. I amped up some of the funnier things and got rid of the stuff that didn’t work.”

Joining Joki on stage will be Nicole Zayas, Lynn Sabeh, Alyssa Connelly, Marisa Zamary, Beth Farrow, Kage Coven, Hunter Thomas, Terri MacSkimming, Andrew Labedz, Bernadette Lim, David Cirelli, Jo Ellen Jacob and Rachel Clifford.

This year’s show includes six new songs, including a new show opener.

“I usually change Starr’s big opening number every year, because I’m normally never 100 percent satisfied,” Joki said. “Now it’s at a place where, ‘Yes, this is what works.'”

Another new song is a duet between Starrlet and her former conjoined sister called “Twintercourse.”

“Drag Queen” is filled with bawdy humor and is not intended for younger audiences (and a midnight show on Dec. 14 promises to be more risque than the 8 p.m. performances), but Joki said the show does provide an escape and its own twisted take on uplifting holiday entertainment for audience members who may be enduring tough times economically.

And along with the Christmas bits, the audience can expect the annual tribute to celebrities who died and other pop culture riffs.

“I have to tell you, celebrities this year were just a gift that kept on giving, from Paula Deen to Miley Cyrus.”