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.