Alice Cooper has a prediction going into Christmas Pudding 2021, a benefit for Alice Cooper's Solid Rock Teen Centers.
"I think the guy that's gonna steal the show," he says, "in my opinion, is Felix Cavaliere from the Rascals."
A late addition to the Pudding lineup, Cavaliere led the Rascals (initially known as the Young Rascals) in a string of soulful pop hits in the '60s, including the chart-topping "Good Lovin'," "Groovin'" and "People Got to Be Free."
"How many hits does he have?" asks Sheryl Cooper, who's seated beside her husband in a large rehearsal room at the original Solid Rock Teen Center on Thunderbird Road in Phoenix. The center offers music, arts and dance programs for young people 12 to 20 at no charge.
Cavaliere, as it turns out, is a longtime friend of the Coopers.
Cooper's star-studded friends list helps with Christmas Pudding
That's how Alice tends to put these Christmas Pudding bills together.
"We've known the Rascals since 1968," he says. "The original Alice Cooper band met them before we were big at all. And they've stayed friends all these years."
In addition to Cavaliere, this year's lineup features Cooper fronting his own touring band (with the exception of guitarist Nita Strauss) with sets by Tom Morello, Ace Frehley of Kiss, Ed Roland of Collective Soul and Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray.
That's a lot of variety on one bill. And that's what Christmas Pudding has been striving for from the beginning.
"We've had a classical pianist, a comedian, a mariachi band, Rob Zombie and Pat Boone together," Alice says. "I love the idea of a show where you don't have any idea what's gonna happen next."
To which Sheryl replies, "That's what makes it a pudding."
It's also what makes it a five-hour show.
Alice says, "We always would say, 'Well, it should be about three and a half hours, maybe?' No! It always ends up being five hours and nobody ever leaves. Because, you know, there's still more to come."
Being the stars of what is essentially their own variety show is a natural calling for the Coopers, having spent their lives in show business.
"We kind of fell into this thing," Alice says. "We can't help from putting a show together. It's sort of like a Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland thing. 'Hey, I've got a barn!'"
Right on cue, Sheryl says, "I've got the costumes."
COVID-19 made putting the show together tougher this year
It was tougher than usual getting commitments to fill up those five hours this year. After COVID-19 pulled everybody off the road for 18 months or so, a lot of bands are touring through December, making up for lost time and/or wages.
"But the ones that we did get," Alice says, "are the ones we wanted."
He convinced Morello to sign on while working on an Alice Cooper album with longtime producer Bob Ezrin.
"And while he was there, I went, 'You know, the Christmas Pudding's coming up,'" Alice recalls. "He said, 'I'd love to.' He's just such a sweet guy. He didn't even think twice about saying yes."
Alice was thrilled to return to the stage this summer after all that time away.
"We were giddy just going into rehearsal," he says.
"When you're so used to being in front of 10,000 people every night and the adrenaline rush? And that's the only drug in your system is adrenaline? And then you take that away for 18 months? It's like coming off a drug."
As a singing, dancing member of the Alice Cooper stage show, Sheryl says, "Not only were we starved for it, but the live audience together? They were so energetic, so enthusiastic. It was electric."
She has no doubt this year's Pudding will be "nothing less than stellar."
Sheryl Cooper will make her debut as a dancer
This year marks the first time Sheryl, a choreographer and dance instructor who's been dancing in her husband's stage show since the '70s, will dance at Christmas Pudding.
"I don't want to say I got roped into it," she jokes. "But with gentle prodding ..."
It was Hodgie Jo, a former student of Sheryl's who's now the director of dance at Alice Cooper's Solid Rock Teen Centers, who suggested it.
"I was his first jazz teacher," Sheryl says. "And he said, 'You know, we should dance together again.' I said, 'I think we should,' and so we are. We'll be doing a swing number."
Now there is a second Solid Rock center in Mesa
Solid Rock opened a second teen center this summer in Mesa.
"I was so proud of the board," Alice says. "When everything was shutting down, we're going, 'So we've got the teen center in Mesa; what do you guys want to do?' Everybody on the board said, 'Full speed ahead. Let's get this place opened.' And it got built."
It's a smaller facility than the original.
"But it's got things this one doesn't have," Alice says. "And Mesa is the biggest school district in Arizona. People don't realize how big Mesa is."
There's already been talk of building another teen center in Mesa.
"I think we may have made the mistake initially by saying at-risk teens without explaining that," Sheryl says.
"There's no such thing as a teen who is not at risk. So all teens 12 to 20 come in here to learn. For free."
The center encourages teens to come in and find their talent.
"Because you're really not gonna find this in schools anymore," Sheryl says. "It's been taken away. So who knows what spark might be ignited?"
Alice encourages kids to try it all until they find the one that clicks.
"I guarantee, they're gonna hit on something that resonates," he says.
"Come on in, find your talent. We know it's there. We just want to mine it out of you. And that same kid that was being influenced to go a whole different direction on the street is now in here putting a band together. Or they're doing artwork."
Whatever it is that manages to capture their imagination, once they find it, Alice says, "they come in every day."
It's a spiritual calling for the Coopers.
"What you're looking at in our lives is an outward expression of an inward transformation," Sheryl says. "We were saved by God in order to serve. We have had this ongoing transformation in our lives, and we want to give back."
Alice Cooper's Christmas Pudding
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4.
Where: Celebrity Theatre, 440 N. 32nd St., Phoenix.
Details: 602-267-1600, Ext. 1, celebritytheatre.com.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Alice, Sheryl Cooper reflect on the true meaning of Christmas Pudding