XMAS!6, A Mall-y Jolly, XMAS!, was performed twice yesterday in Roone, and was the sixth such annual holiday extravaganza. Senior Arts and Religion critic, Alex Jones, reviews this year’s pre-finals musical relief.
XMAS! aims to be a last little bit of bright, holiday musical cheer before a week of finals-induced misery, XMAS!5 producer Steele Sternberg, CC’13, explained to me before the show. With a small budget, and a short window of rehearsal time, XMAS! faces compromises that larger productions, such as the Varsity Show, do not.
However, XMAS!6 compares favorably to its lavishly supported big brother. Having contributed to the review of V117, I urge this year’s VShow creative team to take a look at XMAS!6 for some inspiration. Though it lacked a polished coherence—some, indeed most, elements fell flat during the performance—there were moments, and characters, which achieved unique and appreciable comedic success.
The opening number, “Celebrate With Us,” immediately demonstrated the robust and lively musical accompaniment. The composers, Nick Parker CC ’14 and Solomon Hoffman CC ’14, crafted catchy and charming melodies. The delightful music was, at moments, more enjoyable than anything happening on stage. Despite such moments, it felt like the rest of XMAS!6 fell into the common student theatre trap of extended musical numbers, which become tiresome and don’t progress the plot. “Celebrate With US”, like many in the show, could be more effective if halved in length.
The central storyline was introduced between the first and second songs. Oh boy! Another love story featuring two awkward, yet well-intentioned, loners—a device that makes red and green seem like a novel Christmas combination. Whenever the show veered back to develop or concentrate on that story, the audience was unengaged, and many checked their phones. It was bad.
Despite disappointment in the storyline, the following second number, “Try Love,” highlighted the vocal talent of Jessica Chi, CC ’15. This was Jessica’s college theatre debut, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see her succeeding in future roles. Her on-stage love interest, played by Emile Barraza, SEAS ’13, was too-often bailed out by Jessica’s clear singing voice and confident stage presence.
As the musical proceeded, the plot was progressed by pretty uninteresting dialogue. Fortunately, the audience’s attention was salvaged by frequent plot twists and surprising turns of events, relieving periodic disengagement due to the formulaic romance. When the unoriginal central love story again took center stage in “The Wrong Way,” Kate, played by Samantha Grecco BC ’13, painfully questioned her professional path in comparison to the gleeful lives of the mall workers surrounding her. Again talent was dragged down by a dull plot device, in what might have been the low point of the evening. Samantha played her part well, but her character was a complete bore.
In contrast, the show was redeemed, if not stolen, by Body Shop Greg and Hot Topic Craig, Sean Walsh CC ’14 and David Offit GS/JTS ’13. The duo played characters whose love story was original, well-developed, and humorously tilted. This is the love story that the audience connected with, appreciated, and showered with laughs and applause. “Man of My Dreams” was both hilarious and emotionally rich, unlike any of the scenes featuring Adam (Sam Mickel CC ’14) and Kate.
For all of the lack innovation in the principal love story, it was clear that many of the show’s biggest laughs came from stock characters, familiar tropes from today’s TV. Can anyone look at Crazy Gertrude, Bella Pori, BC ’15, without instantly recognizing Jillian Belk from Workaholics? Adam, and perhaps the whole mall theme, was almost definitely inspired by Henry Pollard from Party Down, and Patti, Lizzie Logan, CC ’14, was definitely a lifted April Ludgate from Parks and Recreation. I would be very surprised if these relations weren’t intentional, and in the case of Patti and Crazy Gertrude, the show benefited tremendously from the prepackaged comedic styling.
Considering the constraints of producing XMAS!, it’s easy to call the show successful on the whole. The good times about made up for the bad, even if the whole production seemed to run a bit long. Most importably, I enjoyed myself, and certainly won’t begrudge a show that makes gratuitous Justin Bieber references. XMAS!6 hit the mark, and was one of the better student written performances I’ve seen at Columbia.
EDIT: XMAS!6 co-writer Liz Watson assures Bwog that all characters were entirely original, and the product of writers’ and cast members’ imaginations. That being the case, Bwog extends its original compliment further for what were truly entertaining characters. But seriously, people, watch more TV!