One of the first collaborative musical performances by Welsh-born singer Judith Owen and her husband Harry Shearer, voice of more than 20 characters on The Simpsons and co-creator of This Is Spinal Tap, was a Spinal Tap tune: "Christmas with the Devil." (The song starts, "The elves are wearing leather/ and the angels are in chains/The sugar plums are rancid/ And the stockings are in flames ..."). They sang it at a charity event in Los Angeles.
"We were off to be part of a charity show called Christmas in July," Owen says via phone from Los Angeles. "We thought how much fun would it be to do 'Christmas with the Devil.' It's become a bit of a favorite."
The song has been a frequent inclusion in their own annual holiday shows, "Christmas Without Tears," which comes to Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre Thursday and Friday. The song has been around since the beginning of their relationship.
"I did indeed see Harry do 'Christmas with the Devil' when I first met him — at the Royal Albert Hall in London with a giant devil tail strapped to him (as Tap bassist Derek Smalls)," Owen says.
Owen has since turned the heavy metal holiday anthem into a jazz number for a trio, with Shearer on bass, plus a percussionist. They released the song in 2014, and there are numerous video versions posted online.
This year's Christmas Without Tears tour featured dates in London, Chicago and Los Angeles before it concludes in New Orleans, where they have a home. Owen and Shearer's mix of music and humor drives the events. Musical guests include Bryan Batt, Michael Cerveris, John Boutte, Evan Christopher, Eric Bloom, Helen Gillet, Tom McDermott, Aurora Nealand, Phil DeGruy, Debbie Davis, Matt Perrine and Topsy Chapman's Solid Harmony.
Comedians, including Steve Martin, Fred Willard and Stephen Merchant of Britain's version of The Office, have been guest performers at the Los Angeles and London installments of the show, but Owen also orchestrates some fun. She brings audience members on stage to act out the daily parts in "Twelve Days of Christmas," such as French hens and lords leaping.
"I've seen people milking each other," she says, describing some enthusiastic participants. "They win shit prizes."
The event originated as a private party, thrown because Owen found spending the the holidays in Southern California to be difficult.
"I find Christmas to be such a bittersweet experience," Owen says. "I really struggle this time of year because I miss my family. I am just so sad being in a warm place with the sun and the sea and beauty — when I wanted shit weather and a real Christmas experience."
The early parties were with friends, which included musicians Keb Mo, Richard Thompson, Van Dyke Parks and others. It became an annual fundraiser in 2005, when they moved it from their home to a theater in Los Angeles and made it a benefit for the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic following Hurricane Katrina. The events support different charities in each city, and this year's shows benefit the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic and Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre.