In late 2016, Kacey Musgraves put together a brief but full-scale tour to accompany the release of A Very Kacey Christmas, her first holiday album. Coming on the heels of the singer’s second LP Pageant Material, the tour’s set list was a mixture of cuts from that record as well as Christmas classics and originals, with a stage that was wrapped in campy disco-Western holiday chic.
Musgraves blows that idea up to absurd proportions with a bold splash of color in the delightfully quirky The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show, executive produced by Musgraves with Ben Winston, Emma Conway, and Jason Owen, and streaming now on Amazon Prime. Boasting an all-star guest list of singers and comedians, it’s a vivid, candy-coated experience that whirls together retro variety-show sheen, cornball comedy, sincere nostalgia, and a host of elegant performances from the gifted artist who dreamed it all up.
The setup is simple: It’s the night before Christmas and Musgraves has misplaced her tree topper somewhere. She’s also forgotten to buy gifts for the guys in her band and has a mountain of work to do before her guests start arriving. But as comedy special rules dictate, a parade of folks all start showing up early and musical hijinks ensue.
Late-night host James Corden sets the tone with a duet rendition of “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” that keeps being interrupted by intense blasts of snow that blow open the French doors. But it’s all so hilariously fake in a Saturday Night Live kind of way — the snow is proudly artificial and the doors as flimsy as cardboard. It also takes place in front of a “live” audience — who laugh and cheer — in a sprawling doll-house set that is decorated in a muted Lisa Frank palette of purples, pinks, and greens. Musgraves is too smart to play the event entirely straight — this is part loving homage and part send-up of specials of Christmases past.
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Schitt’s Creek star and creator Dan Levy narrates the “arguably festive winter’s evening,” adding a dose of razor-sharp, self-aware humor to the proceedings. Musgraves’ portions lean hard on corny comic gags (annoying interruptions in Corden and Fred Armisen’s numbers; a Love Actually nod in Kendall Jenner’s wordless cameo) and excruciating awkwardness (Lana Del Rey’s appearance) in a winking, knowing way that other Christmas specials have not. There are also some meta TV-making cutaways of a TV production room from long ago, along with happy families crowded around vintage console televisions.
The performances are genuinely enjoyable and take place in every room of the doll house. Musgraves has a Judy Garland moment in a bright red dress with a bow (one of several eye-popping outfits she dons throughout the hour), singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Later, she’s joined by Camila Cabello and a host of shimmying dancers in the same spot for “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” A magic bag reveals singer-actor Zooey Deschanel, who quizzically looks to Musgraves and asks, “What are we doing?” “A Christmas special,” replies the host, before the two gamely sing “Mele Kalikimaka.”
But the camp of The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show — which is also available as an album — doesn’t obscure its sincerity. A pair of performances in particular reveal the special’s heart: Pop singer Troye Sivan matches Musgraves’ bold color palette for the new song “Glittery,” and Musgraves takes a solo turn with a gorgeous, melancholy rendition of her “Christmas Makes Me Cry.” The narrator Levy doesn’t let the reflective mood linger too long though. “And so Kacey has an emo moment in her bedroom,” he says in voiceover.
In the show’s most touching vignette, Musgraves’ real-life Nana shows up unexpectedly, carrying the elusive tree topper. It leads to a kitchen-sink finale that includes the Rockettes, an ensemble of dancers, people in animal costumes, and gallons of confetti. Musgraves remains at the center of this melee, radiating charisma and showcasing an entire range of hosting talents we’ve not yet seen her call upon. This is clearly the singer’s weird holiday party, and she invites us all to get weird with her.