Theater Hop: XMAS! North by Northpole
Written by Bwog Staff
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.