TheatreHop: XMAS 2 The Secular Spectacular

Written by

While you were celebrating the last day of classes in Butler or 1020, Bwog theatre critic Ginia Sweeney attended the late viewing of XMAS 2: The Secular Spectacular. Although the show’s run began and ended last night, Ginia shares her thoughts. Photos by Lydia DePillis.

I’ve been so wrapped up in the end of the semester that I almost forgot how quickly Christmas is creeping up on us. You can bet that the cast and crew of XMAS 2: The Secular Spectacular, which showed twice last night in Roone Arledge Auditorium, haven’t forgotten. The student-written, directed, and produced musical seeks to reveal the origins of that blockbuster holiday, as Judy Maccabee (Madeleine Stokes C’08) tells her children the story of a shake-up back in her teen years at Polar High School.

I went to the later showing and considering it was 11pm on the day classes ended, it was unsurprising that much of the audience members had already commenced their Monday night drinking. This would explain the loud guffaws at almost every attempted joke.

Some amount of kitsch is always appreciated, but XMAS was campy to a fault. It was filled with too many lackluster performance and musical numbers. It’s clear a lot of work went into this production, and some of it paid off: there were several hilarious lines and well performed characters. Overall, though, the show was no where near as clever as it thought it was, and was irritating and uneven.

There’s something about high school that makes it the perfect setting for almost any story—so goes the never-flawed wisdom of Hollywood and the XMAS writers. All the familiar characters are there: the overly confident “popular” kids, the oblivious dorks, the wise guys who are too busy being sarcastic to admit they really want to be part of everything. The story is roughly that Menorah (Laura Kleinbaum C’08) and Dreidle (Mike Molina C’10) are throwing their annual Hannukah bash for only the hip, Jewish kids. Kris Kringle (Josh Breslow C’08) wants an invitation, but, failing to obtain one, decides instead to throw a big, all-inclusive birthday bash for his buddy Jesus (Austin Mitchell SEAS’08). Joseph and Mary (Michael Snyder C’10 and Alessandra Hirsch B’08), both teachers at Polar High, have (again) forgotten their son’s birthday, which they remember in a pretty fantastic Home Alone reference. One thing leads to another, and suddenly the biggest, most commercial holiday of the western world is created.

Some of the high school stereotypes are over the top. Molina, as Dreidle, is mostly amusing and overshadows his female counterpart in playing the obnoxious popular kid we all hate to remember. Caley Bulinski C’08 plays Clara of The Nutcracker fame, who is made into a bubbly and completely empty shell, a cardboard character like the rest of the lineup. Granted, the writers probably weren’t trying to flush out the characters into literary masterpieces, but they really could have done more with Clara in particular. The performance is as empty as the writing which inspired it. Clara’s sister, on the other hand, is fantastic. Danny Robin B’10 plays Heather “Nutcracker” Claus, whose ball-smashing days are melted away when Kris Kringle reaches out to her.

Granted, some characters were both well-written and performed. Michael Seaman SEAS’10 played the adolescent Ebenezer Scrooge; like much of the cast, he is to appear in the Varsity Show this spring. If this performance is any indication, we should all look forward to a chuckle-inspiring showing by Seaman. Nessa Norich B’08 plays Principal Peppermint Schnapps. It’s hard to believe that the pint-sized Norich isn’t actually middle-aged and perpetually tipsy. Benjamin Velez C’10 did double-time as the Gingerbread man, who sings an anthemic number about not really being a man, tastelessly sprinkled with ’90s pop vocal embellishments.  The opening lines of music, sung by Velez as Clark Maccabee, reveal a lot about the music to come with their unending Backstreet Boys-esque arpeggios. So much of the music in XMAS is tuneless that it sometimes seems the writers added these Christina-Aguilera vocal stunts to make up for the lack of substance.

Velez can sing, certainly, but gave both the Gingerbread man and the Maccabee boy identical vocal inflections. Watching him recalled—and precisely so—his performance of just a few weeks ago as Jack in Into the Woods. Am I the only one who wonders if this is the only character he can play?

The set and costumes are simple and straight-forward; both worked for the production. A huge bow hangs above the high school, but XMAS is not a present I would like to find beneath my holiday tree. During the curtain call, the first few rows of the audience—stuffed with the friends and colleagues of those involved with the show— stood up like so many Jack-in-the-Boxes. As no one behind them could see, this prompted a chain reaction wherein almost everyone tentatively stood up to applaud. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I did not intentionally give the performance a standing ovation. It had its funny moments, but I wish I had been able to laugh more and groan a little less.


Tags: , , ,


  1. while

    i agree that some of the soul seemed to be gone this year, i cannot disagree more with what you have to say about ben velez. his song was the most hilarious part of the whole show. he is brilliant, owns the stage, and gets better every time.

  2. holy shit  

    is this bitch on crack?

  3. what about  

    joey goldberg's performance? i liked his character and DAMN that boy can sing

    "tuneless" is a good word to describe a lot of the music in XMAS. i can't remember a single tune from the show (and any good show has a very memorable melody, like 2006 varsity show's "hi i'm miserable how the hell are you").

  4. ummmm  

    this bitch is retarded. Ben Velez is by far one of the most talented people I know. honestly its not even worth reading the shit she wrote. I'm appalled. SOMEONE missed the point of this production completely and she happened to write the review for it. WOW.

  5. ginia sweeney:  

    first she tries to get rid of athletes, and now she's talking shit about drama kids....

    can somebody get this girl a vibrator?

  6. somebody needs to  

    dropkick this girl. IS SHE SERIOUS?

  7. Typical  

    I suppose this article can be expected. No one at Columbia just sits back and enjoys anything. There is just constant bitching and moaning about how nothing is ever good enough. XMAS was a great and funny start to the Monday evening commemorating the last day of classes. It put me in touch with the holiday season that is so well hidden by papers and final exam. Maybe if you watched the play just to watch it and not to pick out a laundry list of flaws you'd actually enjoy it. Congrats to everyone who participated in XMAS for a great performance.

  8. WTF??  

    The show was hilarious and I thought it was the perfect study break, which was really all it was meant to be. Anyone who knows anything about this production knows its all about having fun and about getting excited for the holidays. Anyone who writes an entire review solely spotlighting the negatives needs to have their ass fired.

    Joey Goldberg sang the shit out of his song, he wasn't even mentioned, and every cast member was entertaining. Ben Velez could not have been more different from Jack in his Les Mis-esque Gingerbread song, so whoever the fuck this Ginia Sweeney bitch is, she needs to learn how to actually review theater. Molina was also hilarious as always, and the plot was creative and loads of fun.

  9. DHI  

    Man, calm down. I tried to sit and enjoy the show last year, and a lot of those same problems got in my way. I tend to view it more as a difference of style - musical theater of this sort has a very specific attitude - sort of excess of enthusiasm or whatever - and if you don't have the same attitude then its flaws are multiplied and it can be hard to watch. It is what it is. It's a good thing people put on the show because a lot of people enjoy it, but even though good people are involved it's not necessarily watchable for everyone.

  10. Oh good  

    So glad all the drunk friends of the cast/audience members from last night read Bwog.

  11. did  

    we see the same thing? It was aware of its camp, and made fun of it. Some performances left a lot to be desired (Klienbaum was miserable) but the writing was pretty clever and there was a lot of talent in the whole thing.

  12. ????  

    um.. really though? to review musical theater, you have to actually know something about MUSIC AND THEATER.

  13. wha???  

    Maybe this reporter was scoring some "snow" from Rudolph, but this performance was fine.

    One issue I had was it was difficult to hear, although I'd assume Lerner Tech's to blame for that.

  14. objective  

    I think the review is pretty accurate. It is NOT harping on just the negative aspects (as friends of the cast would like to believe and harp on).

    I thought the production was fun, but meh.

  15. lolbwog  

    why so much drama?

  16. umm  

    it seems like the point of this show was completely missed. it was aware of its exaggerations. it was a SATIRE. the cast was used to their strengths, which probably explains a lot of the choices made in the show. there is no educated criticism in this review that reveals that this writer knows anything about theater or music. it's just a lot of bitching. maybe she can try to write a musical and then rethink things.

    • DHI  

      It's one of those satires that enjoys what it's making fun of as it's making fun of it, though, so it still has similar limitations. One example: Grindhouse makes fun of bad grindhouse movies, but if you don't enjoy those movies on some level, I imagine it would be really unwatchable (particularly Planet Terror).

      • ok...

        I get your logic.
        But if you don't love the holidays (the subject matter in this case) then you are a scroogey asshole.
        I like xmas because it feels like warm holiday magic but avoids some of the cheese by being a comedy.

        Thanks for the hard work xmas.

  17. seriously

    this writer sucks. terrible, terrible journalism, e.g. "...but xmas is not a present i would want to unwrap."

    i'm guessing she doesn't like the high school setting because it reminds her of how she had no friends in high school?? learn to spell-check the words in your article (dreidle) and then maybe your opinion will be worth listening to.

    • actually  

      i went to boarding school with ginia and she was plenty popular and really involved with theater--a subject she knows a lot about. If you didn't notice or didn't see the show "dreidle" is how the character's name was spelled in the program, so it's not a spell check error. guys, please stop saying that she's a bad writer just because she didn't like your show.

  18. lame  

    i don't agree with every point this post makes, but it really applies to cu drama in general. it can be good stuff, but really, i too often get the impression that the folks on stage are a little too full of themselves. and that has a direct impact on our viewing pleasure-

    woulda loved to hear this wench post on v113.

  19. yeah  

    but just because XMAS is supposed to be a satire does not give the writers an excuse for sloppy plots, bad songs and pitiful rhyme sequences. Satire is supposed to be like Jonathan Swift--a swift kick in your apathetic balls by a combination of good writing and social criticism. XMAS fails on that level. It was a BAD show. I'm glad that the reviewer actually gave a REVIEW, for once, instead of mere plot summary. KEEP IT UP!

  20. people.  

    being a satire of something bad is not an excuse for being bad. putting effort into something doesn't make it good. not liking a show doesn't mean you can't write. the show was largely awful, and i feel this reviewer managed to highlight the strongest points(norich, while illuminating the lowest. way to call out the instantaneous standing ovation, too. i wanted to applaud for certain cast members, but i still have standards and remained in my seat, so my view was obstructed.

    i'm sorry if these people were your friends. they seem nice enough. but the jokes were weak and the songs were soulless. aiming to be a light, fluffy study break doesn't give you the right to be uninteresting. so, please, stop calling ginia (who i don't even know) hateful names and accept that the only reason you liked the show is because your friends were in it and you had to.

  21. come on!

    Whether or not you think this review was well written, the writer just flat out missed the point of the show!! It was supposed to be light, funny, and fun, and it definitely succeeded on all those levels. People were truly used to their talents...I wish that the writer of this review had focused more on individual performances. Even the ones she mentioned (Molina, Bulinski, Robin, Seaman, Norich,Velez) were only described with one sentence. This "review" fell flat for me.

  22. uhh  

    bhangra anyone?

    they got a bunch of white-washed musical theater kids to bhangra.

    .....seriously. that shit killed.

  23. sequel

    The XMAS team had a tough challenge this year. Last year's show was wonderful because it came out of nowhere and the creative team could just put on a show without feeling like they needed to prove themselves or measure up to another production. This year's show just felt like it was overworked.

  24. stop freaking out  

    There were some good moments, like the Bhangra, but seriously, this year's show was a far cry from the original Secular Spectacular. I know the writers had a tough act to follow up on, and it was a good effort and performance, but it did not deserve a standing ovation. For one thing, the mike problems of the 11pm performance didn't help the singing, but too many people couldn't hit the right notes, and the horrible rhyming of each stanza made me cringe. This review was objective and I agree with it; stop giving the writer grief.

  25. really..

    this was a cool show...what it was intended to be -- fun, break from studies, lots of laughter with friends. The reviewer missed the gestalt and the original intention of the show - she should look at the coverage from last year to get an idea. I enjoyed the performance, the music - designed to be high-school-like, the Bhangra, and the open and international character of the show.

    If you want to take xmas into a TISCH-like performance, talk to the Dean and put in more budget!

  26. who are you?

    the show delivered what it was supposed to. The music kept it alive and was really innovative. Lets keep things in perspective and try to get what the show is about before expressing random negative thoughts. The best part of the show was its global slant... but to appreciate that one must learn to be open and see beyond one's nose!

  27. whatever  

    The show was awful. I guess those kids think they're funny or something? I don't know, they all just look boring to me.

  28. practical  

    everyone who is posting seems to be deeply vested in the show or in the writer. from an objective standpoint - the show was what it was: a performance thrown together by some talented people in the midsts of attending columbia. i don't think they meant it to be broadway (or even tisch) but it was just supposed to be a fun, quick show to get everyone into the holiday spirit. granted it seemed to be reaching a little too far with some of the numbers and the length of the show. but no one wasted any money in attending. i also thought the idea was somewhat original and the writing seemed clever. just some thoughts.

  29. UGH  

    A lot of reviews don't focus heavily on individual performances, because most readers DON'T PERSONALLY KNOW the people involved. Obviously you do. But surprisingly enough, most of us don't give a shit about the Varsity Crew and their "hilarious antics."

  30. Ryan Leaf  

    Talented don't always mean good.

  31. to Ugh

    Why write reviews when you don't seemingly give a shit about anything?

  32. well....

    if you're taking the time to post on the matter, you obviously care about this to some extent. i know i care about this show, so that's why i'm posting. but all of the people commenting have such strong opinions that they must care a little bit. also-- the people involved in the show are not as cocky as some people are implying-- no one expected everyone to love the show; in fact, it is such an extreme that we all knew that audiences would either love it or hate it. at the end of the day, there were a lot people who didn't know people involved who did genuinely enjoyed it. if you really thought the show was so awful, there was no person or spent money stopping you from walking out.

  33. To well....

    Amen... a good closure to an opinionated review



  35. too harsh...  

    this is much too harsh of a criticism of the show, as one of the few that were sober, it was still hilarious, witty, never got boring and was more exciting to watch than last year's varsity show (and XMAS2 didnt even need to spend thousands on set pieces). ben velez's song was the best in the show, the only thing that was bothersome was that the girl who played clara was not actually a dancer, it would have added to her character if she were

  36. nonbiased  

    Although I agree that the writer of this post was entirely too analytical of a show that was meant to be taken in good fun, the show was pretty awful. Several of my friends were in the show, and I tried to enjoy it as much as possible, but I simply couldn't. The story got so boring, and the writing was pretty horrible. I agree that there was some talent in the show (particularly molina, goldberg, the gingerbread dude, and a few others), but overall, I left thinking that I would have been better off pulling an all-nighter with the asians than wasting my life in lerner. I was very disappointed.

    P.S. Laura Kleinbaum has absolutely no talent. Her friends can try to defend her as much as they want, but the girl cannot sing or act, and as xmas shows, she can't write either. Will somebody please tell her that she has no talent, that way she won't continue to embarrass herself. Maybe she should take up something that doesn't require vocalization, like knitting.

  37. F.U. C.U.

    It just kills me that such a well-intentioned show gets knocked like that. And not even in the right ways. Knock what should have been Knocked, G. It all boils down to Ginia being a horrible audience member. Sure people laughed... because they were ready to be entertained. Ginia was all too ready to hate. (It's really all about the readying.)

    Admittedly, certain aspects of the show deserved to be critiqued. I think everyone agrees that Clara wasn't the strongest character, and that the song shouldn't have been there at all. But as Velez is perpetually enjoyable to watch, I don't care if all his performances lean toward the same character (look at the pro's-- when have we not seen the same schtick from Sutton Foster? And yet-- I DON'T CARE.). And if you can't admit that the bizarreness of his show-stopping Gingerbreadman number was UTTERLLY entertaining, you are too uptight to enjoy most musical theater.

    And in the same way that you say you wish Xmas had made you laugh more and groan less, I wish your review had made me agree more and want to read Bwog less... less.

  38. ?!?

    The reviewer must not have been very conscious of her surroundings during the performance last night, because the second Ben Velez's gingerbread man song finished, about 1/3 of the audience scrambled for their programs to scan the cast list. I think he's one of the only Columbia musical theater regulars who never fails to deliver a thoughtful, intelligent, fully nuanced performance, and can't believe that anyone who claims to be well-versed in musical theater would think of him as a cookie-cutter (ha) talent. Bhangra made X-Mas memorable, but Velez (with a little help from Molina, Snyder, and Robin) took it to a whole new level.

  39. you don't make sense

    without even getting into this show in particular...
    you just have faulty reasoning. of course people post about this because their friends are involved (as is the case with any CU event ever mentioned on bwog) but also, most *professional* reviews do go into detail about standout performances (good or bad)'s part of the review.

    as a second note: is this the same girl that reviewed Into the Woods? The one that critiqued sondheim's work instead of the actual production? If so, she should collect all of her work, bind it, and sell it as a contemporary novel that chronicles a lady that got all the schooling in the world but still lacked any taste and/or intellect. If not, then I take that back.

  40. how fitting  

    a mediocre article for a mediocre show...but both provided mild entertainment in the midst of finals...

  41. did you notice...  

    .. that the entire production team cast themselves in the lead roles? Molina once told me he "auditioned like everyone else"... yeah- and I'm sure that the people who you are going to be working with writing a script for for a few months are going to cut you....

  42. not their friend  

    yeah, the show wasn't particularly funny, well cast or well scored, and clearly nepotism played an exceedingly large role in assembling both the production team and cast
    but you have to applaud these kids for working their asses off to put of something that at least vaguely resembled a show in a very short period of time. And if you have all these huge problems with it, I implore you to attempt to pull off what they did.
    Kids got moxie, I'll give them that.

  43. mr. on  

    you gusy gotta watch the seinfeld videos. they're hilar!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  44. gusy????  

    way to check your spelling, dude! Next time you write a comment, try checking a little book I like to call the dictionary

  45. ok wait  

    more like dicktionary, you fucking moron


    you people have no clue. why not call the cops while you're at it?

  47. where was colin?  

    I heard the sandwiches at milano are superb

  48. woahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh  


  49. "caljksssssssssss"?  

    step outside, people. "Dicktionary"? "Dreidle"? It doesn't take a scientist of rockets. I heard that XMAS was cool.

  50. AT LEAST...

    some of the cast was really hot...

  51. Guys:  

    The show fuckin blew. If you liked it, you were sitting in the first few rows (drunk) and you were in V113.

    End of fuckin discussion.

    (And yeah the review sucked, but if I were reviewing this piece of shit, I wouldn't have put up much effort either. Just not worth it.)

    • why the hate?

      i thought the show did what it seemingly tried to do - present a free, fun break from school. i wasn't expecting a literary masterpiece, and it wasn't one. but the singers were pretty incredible and i had a good time.

      the reviewer seems a little harsh - what kind of a show could you possibly have been expecting? also, it was free, and i didn't see anybody leaving, so i guess i'm sorry that everyone who hated this so much didn't have anywhere else to go.

  52. alexw  

    This is the 9/11 of Bwog threads, and that drunk guy is AA Flight 175.

  53. AJONES4EVR  

    FItting that the 9/11 of threads would come up at a "university" where NEIL FLANAGAN goes. Why are you hiding that disinfo nutjob. WHY WAS HE IN DC ON SEPTEMBER 11th? FIND THE TRUTH. Get informed and turn your university into a truthiversity.

  54. AJONES4EVR  

    Also tied to the UN! Where do the threads go?

  55. anti-anti-rjt  

    Rob Trump is the Pentagon of Rob Trumps.

  56. Rudolf Rocker  

    hey, what time does daft punk go on?

  57. firsttimeviewer

    the show was alot of fun....get over it all you complainers...bravo to the cast, writers, music and all the talent that worked hard to make you laugh admist the closing of the semester!

  58. yeah ok

    bwog had this innocuous post on the sweeps/chowdah show recently, and i'm sorry but THAT'S the kind of performance i want to see get torn a new one. at least xmas displayed some modicum of intelligence and had a genuinely talented cast, even if it was smothered by its camp. sweeps and chowdah eat serious balls on all fronts.

  59. you see the show?  

    i understand the reservations but theyve gotten a lot better. certainly more enjoyable than this trash.

    then again, i will side with any group of "talent" that doesnt involve laura kleinbaum. you know how van halen used to ask in their contracts for entire bowls of just the brown m&m's, the thinking being that if an arena didn't follow that then they must have made other mistakes that would endanger the band? putting laura kleinbaum in anything that purports to be based on talent is essentially introducing a green m&m.

    • eddie van halen  

      um, our band's rider stated that the brown m&m's should be REMOVED, duh. we loved the green ones. speaking of which, Laura Kleinbaum is great, period. i would marry her, were i not an aging rockstar with persistent knee problems.

  60. David Lee Roth  

    Before leaving the band, I did, indeed, enjoy the green m&ms. They're aesthetically appealing and tasty and talented, just like all those California girls.

  61. Everything  

    the VShow team does is so masturbatory it hits the audience like a bukkake tidal wave.

    • Hint

      "[Everything] the VShow team does is so masturbatory it hits the audience like a bukkake tidal wave."

      Note: Change "bukkake tidal wave" to "bukkake tsunami," and it'd be slightly funnier, more concise, and have better rhythm. It'd also make it seem less the case that you're trying to get a rise out of the word bukkake, because you bump it into another Japanese word with similar syllabic structure.

      V Show is funnier than you, at least.

  62. ugh

    as a vshow alum, it's so frustrating to hear things like that because what exactly do you think we have to gain? how does it make logical sense to anyone that we'd be like, let's devote our whole semester to something people won't like? and besides, we're usually too busy getting blasted when we're not in rehearsal to think about anything else anyway.

  63. really

    Quality of some of this exchange makes one wonder about how these folks fit into Columbia. Where is the maturity - smells of unhealthy rivalry and spending lots of time making empty remarks. The team of Xmas2 should write a piece on what inspired the show,and what it takes - as someone said, try putting something like this before making ugly personal statements. Grow up!

  64. Wow, you're right,

    I really hope you're editing the V Show this year!

  65. rgg  

    Yes, not all the songs were great or even in the best vocal ranges for the singers ("Nutcrackinest Broad of All"). But "Cookie Cut Me Free" absolutely killed. And it's not because everyone in the audience is Benjamin Velez's friend and/or fangirl. He completely owned it. His movements got more and more hilarious as the song progressed and the music and lyrics were perfect. I thought his singing was supposed to be boy band (tasteFULly) inspired to highlight the fact that his character doesn't realize he's gay, just like a certain 'Nsync member of old. Come now, Velez-hating is just plain silly.

    On Michael Seaman: correct!

    On Caley Bulinski: no. Clara was definitely written to be an empty character, but her performance was full of wonderment and self-possession in her character's utter vacancy. It was wonderful to watch.

    Also, Michael Snyder deserved a mention for a noteworthy performance.

  66. too bad  

    Xmas was just about DICKS.

  67. So much nastiness

    I'm not saying that you can't be critical and disappointed in these shows (I think VShow has been in decline since 2005), but so many of these comments are really nasty and personal.

    I think it's awesome that people put themselves out there and try to create something for their peers. I wish more of that went on at Columbia. That said, I think it's hard to do something like this that isn't at least a little tedious or tired, etc. But they're trying.

    I thought Kleinbaum was terrific in the first XMas and is an incredibly nice girl.

© 2006-2015 Blue and White Publishing Inc.