Theater Hop: XMAS! North by Northpole

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Bwog theater correspondent Morgan Childs saw last night’s annual
XMAS! show.

Please don’t ask me to explain XMAS!.  In case you missed last night’s two-show run, the bare facts may seem a little out of left field.  Things begin like an off-color joke when a pagan, a Jew, and a frustrated Kwanzaa observer conspire to kidnap Santa Claus, only to find their plans thwarted by Charlie Brown, Tiny Tim, and a rapping Lil’ Drummer Boy.  The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is looking for love, and Santa wears skinny jeans.  Two goats fall in love.  It all works out in the end.

There’s a lot going on in this year’s XMAS!, but for one reason or another, nobody seems to mind.   XMAS! North by Northpole, the third installation of the annual student-produced holiday musical, is the story not of Charlie Brown, not of Tiny Tim or Sally Pagan or Cindy Jew Who, but of all of them as well as all their friends.  In that way (and in Jew Who’s confession that she secretly prefers Christmas to Hannukah), XMAS! is a rumination on the universality of Christmas.  But let’s not kid ourselves, lest we forget the real meaning of XMAS!: wit, irreverence, and a respite from the stress of final exams.

All of these things, it should be noted, XMAS! achieved in spades.  Rarely have I seen a more receptive audience than last night’s eleven o’clock crowd, most of which jumped to their feet en masse at the show’s end.  Rachel Leopold and Michael Molina’s script, while by no means cerebrally taxing, sustained the audience’s riotous laughter from beginning to end.  The poor acoustics in Roone Arledge Auditorium once again did a disservice to performers, but no one in the seats seemed to mourn the smattering of lost lines.  The transitions between scenes ran a little long, a little quiet–but no matter.  For all its foibles, the evening was a delight, perhaps because neither its audience nor its creative team would have it any other way.

Of course, credit is due in large part to the show’s remarkably talented cast, and while XMAS! functioned most successfully in its ensemble numbers, several individual performances cannot go without mention.  As Belsnickel, the pagan leader of the Anti-Santa Society (or A.S.S.), Tobin Mitnick was somewhat magnetic, lending thoughtful and impressive physicality to an under-developed role.  Austin Smith (Kwanzaa Karl) commanded the crowd’s attention from the moment he entered the stage, projecting his remarkable vocal and physical talent with ease.  Mary Jo Holuba gave a near-perfect performance of the song “Jew for Santa Claus” as Cindy Jew Who.  And Emily Kaplan’s Tiny Tim — or perhaps the pairing of her cockney accent and “That’s What She Said” wisecracks — had the woman sitting behind me doubled over with laughter (admittedly, so was I).   

But perhaps the most notable strength of XMAS! lay in Allie Paddock’s choreography.  Paddock crafted the play’s movement with a deft hand, and the end result was an ideal complement to a show of this sort — confidently tongue-in-cheek, and a hell of a lot of fun to watch.  Near its end, the play came to a sudden, thrilling halt when its entire cast convened for an impressive step routine.  XMAS! is pure glee, and this moment was its most gleeful.  

At the end of the day, there are strings left to be tied.  Zlathe the Goat is still set to be sacrificed, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is still single, and our downtrodden Santa still owes a debt to society.  But with just an hour of winter bliss to spare on the last day of classes, none of these things really matters.  XMAS!, like few other shows on this campus, promises to all a good night.

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  1. Goats  

    Get all the good sex.

  2. really?  

    "like few other shows on this campus, promises to all a good night"

    really, bwog? i know you are cynical... but you just gave The Winter's Tale a (deserved) stunning review a few days ago... theater on this campus this semester has been pretty great... no need to pander to those that like the snarky comments when there is no need for snark...

  3. this  

    was really great! Bravo to you all!

  4. too nice  

    this review was way too complimentary. I agree that all of the performers were fun to watch and were clearly having fun, but the show made little sense and the group numbers were definitely the weakest moments.

    This review completely ignores the music, and considering that it was a musical, it seems like that would be an important thing to remark on. A lot of the songs seemed to stop suddenly and unexpectedly, and I agree with the reviewer that Paddock's choreography is what saved the show. Eva peskin's direction was also top notch as it was clear that the cast committed to everything they did on stage.

    It was a lot of fun, but to say it was better than the other shows this semester is just wrong. I agree with # 2 that this was a fantastic season for Columbia theater.

  5. Kwanzaa Karl  

    is amazingly attractive. And I'm a straight male.

  6. WHATTT  

    WHY is there no mention of the goats! yonatan and claire were some of the funniest actors!!!

  7. confused  

    Was Belsnickel (Tobin Mitnick) supposed to be gay?

    It certainly seemed to be implied although never confirmed. For instance, Belsnickel was leaning against Gay Santa (Michael Snyder) near the end of the show, but they quickly split apart for a musical number and never got as close again.

    If you're going to write in gay characters, commit to it. Let their characters develop a little by giving them real romantic interests. Otherwise, why bother hinting at it with Belsnickel? And why bother adding a "Gay Santa"? Without some level of realism, even on the teeniest, tiniest level, you end up turning their sexuality into a hook for cheap laughs, and that's just as undignified as a minstrel show.

  8. XMAS  

    kind of sucked in comparison to the previous two years... I fully appreciate the fact that the show was fun in that its plot was basically all over the place, but the singing was so disgustingly bad (with the exception of the jew/santa song). The acting (especially the goats) was subpar at best, with the exception of the mentally disturbed santa and tiny tim, and the show was yet another display of this school's usual crowd of theater nerds. If this is any sign of the V-show's future, I would hate the see the shit storm that ensues on stage this april.

  9. XMAS  

    takes the Christ out of Christmas. I should expect no less from this institution of muslim worshiping Jews.

  10. more mean please!  

    what's up with bwog going so soft on theatre these days? come on, bwog, 'fess up. which one of you is sleeping with actors these days?

  11. Um, no...  

    Varsity Show and XMAS have nothing to do with each other and never have. Both are student-written musicals, but they are completely different organizations. XMAS was produced by NOMADS.

    • But  

      much of the cast from this year's XMAS will be moving on to VShow this year (John, Patrick, Yonatan, Claire, Adam, Rachel) or were in VShow last year (Tobin, Both Michaels, Jenny, Sarah, Allie). Let's face it, even if the organizations are different, anything musical theater on campus tends to end up involving the same people. All of these performers, however, are fantastic; so there's really no need to complain.

  12. let's be honest

    this show was nothing like the last 2 years. i remembered being blown away my freshman year and last year too. where were all the big group numbers? there were only like 2 full cast songs this year. where was the music in general? the choreography was the best part of this show absolutely... kudos to paddock for saving it. the plot was cute, but i hope that next years brings xmas back to what it was.

  13. um....

    where were the normal holiday characters? the only recognizable character really was santa... and there were multiple.
    agreed- good actors, fine story, great choreo. i only remember the last song, but i thought that was pretty good- over all not that impressed.

  14. a review?

    when you review a musical, the first thing to mention is the music- yes? what happened to the music this year? i agree with #18- the finale was the best song but the rest fell through the cracks. maybe because the cast only had a small number of good singers. no shout out to charlie brown in the review? he was great.

    also- no mention of the set. it looked like a middle school show- i don't remember it seeming this way last year.

    no doubt they worked hard, but made some questionable choices. reviews are supposed to be critical- seems like the bwog is overcompensating for its earlier mean streak

  15. nice for a change

    i don't know why everyone got so used to mean bwog reviews... maybe bwog reviews should be like this. it takes a lot of work to write and put up a show in 3 months, and there is no need for snarky and pretentious reviews and useless harping ... and there's no point comparing to past years- the cteam is entirely different so of course it's a different show. all you guys complaining are probably just sad that you don't have an excuse to write mean comments for weeks. try being a full time student and creating a show like this... they deserve a pat on the back no matter what anyone's opinions of the show are. this is not broadway.

  16. I don't know

    what show you naysayers where at but the music is still in my head. It was awesome.

  17. before

    grammar nazis get on my ass *were

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