“XMAS!10: O Christmas, Where Art Thou?” is this year’s original, student-written holiday musical. Last night, Bwog writer (and Christmas-finder) Betsy Ladyzhets had the honor of attending the dress rehearsal, and abused that honor by nearly falling out of her chair several times because she was laughing too hard. XMAS!10 is playing tonight, in the Roone Arledge Auditorium, at 7pm and 10pm. Tickets are $5 with CUID, $10 without.
XMAS! is a well-known, well-respected tradition at Columbia – or at least, it has been for the past decade. Every year, a group of talented singers, crew members, and musicians comes together to create an original musical celebrating the most wonderful time of the year (the holidays, not finals.) And every year, XMAS! attempts to find some new hilarious take on the holiday season. This year, in the wildly anticipated tenth XMAS! performance, the show’s connection to Christmas is clearly set up from the beginning: the main character is an eight-year-old girl named Christmas.
Christmas isn’t your typical eight-year-old girl, though; after being washed up on an island in the middle of the Pacific as a baby, she was raised by a pod of porpoises, completely isolated from human civilization. Her only knowledge of human culture is an old JC Penney Christmas sales catalogue, from which she chose her name. The show tells the story of Christmas’ journey off the island and into the human world in search of the meaning of her name. This journey takes her from the Pacific to Alaska, then around New York City, and leads her to the realization that the purpose (porpoise) of Christmas is not any material items, but the people you spend the holiday with.
For a story like this to be engaging and funny, the main character needs to be convincing—and she was. April Cho, CC ’17, the actress playing Christmas, winningly portrayed the wonder, curiosity, and strong emotions of an eight-year-old excited to learn everything she can about the human world. April kept up a tone of childish wonder even while reciting the front page of a J.C. Penny catalogue and delivering such lines as, “Well, those all sound like phallic objects.” And somehow, even though Christmas is only eight, she’s relatable: her desire not to depend on her porpoise mother while also kind-of wanting to ask her for help is reminiscent of the typical college challenge—how often do I call my mom, and can I beg her for money and advice when I do?
Another notable actor was Kunal Kamath, CC ’17, who portrayed Colton—professor, Reddit moderator, advocate for the Hopeless Hairy Hipsters, “PhD candidate expected, stop asking, Dad!”, and antagonist of the show. Colton has been part of the NYU anthropology department for twenty years, and is willing to do anything (including kidnap an eight-year-old girl who has been raised by porpoises) to finally write his dissertation. Kunal’s acting makes Colton both hilarious and diabolical, and his big number, “Code of Ethics,” was unforgettable. “Morality is a social construct!” he sang, grinning maniacally. “When you’re awesome like me, you don’t need a code of conduct.” (The giant NYU banner displayed behind him leads one to wonder if Colton is perhaps supposed to represent the average NYU student.)
Perhaps the best actors in the show, however, were not the main actors, but members of the supporting cast. XMAS!10 has a fairly small ensemble—only twelve actors—and several of these actors portray multiple roles throughout the show. One of the most memorable was Ariana Busby, BC ’18, in her three roles of Oil Rig Worker, Charlene, J.C. Penny Worker, and Russian Student Who Continuously Mispronounces “Purpose” As “Porpoise.” In each role, her persona completely changed, but the comedic brilliance of her acting did not. Her solo as the Oil Rig Worker, in which she described a new holiday she had created (“Eight days. Lots of oil. A present for each night.”) was one of the funniest of the show. Two other ensemble members, Cole Hickman, CC ’16, and Emily London, BC ’17, also performed remarkably in multiple roles, as Horatio, Obnoxious Former Frat Bro, J.C. Penny Worker, and Old Saint Dick, and Erica, Dara, Destiny, and JC Penney Worker, respectively.
The music of XMAS!10 was nothing short of spectacular. Sofia Geck, BC ‘17, and Jonah Weinstein, CC ‘16, composed twelve original songs and numerous scene change music for this show in tones ranging from heartfelt to jazzy to parody of rap. The music was entertaining, but also played well by both the actors and the pit; at times, I forgot I was listening to student compositions. But perhaps even more impressive than the music was the choreography. The porpoise pod (Fernanda Douglas, CC ’16, Gabby Bullard, BC ’18, Lindsay Garber, BC ’16, and Rachel Shafran, CC ’16), who appeared at different points in the musical to provide narration in jazz form, danced in a manner that was somehow reminiscent of both large marine mammals and the muses from Disney’s Hercules. And one particular dance, set to the song “Santa’s Helpers” and at the North Pole, the best strip club in Alaska, was definitely unforgettable. Brittany Beljak, who played Debbie, the disillusioned stripper, was particularly memorable; in two numbers, she managed the most sarcastic dancing you could ever imagine.
And, since this is XMAS!, I shouldn’t really have to mention the jokes, but I’m going to, anyway. Any show that includes a “head writer of fart jokes” (Rebecca Farley, CC ’16) in its program bios sets itself a high bar right from the start, and XMAS!10 did not disappoint. Each character delivered at least one or two great lines, even while the narrative as a whole still moved forward. A few of my favorite lines, presented out of context for your enjoyment, were: “We give rides to little girls who look like they need plot development.”; “You’ve got ambition. Like Stalin.”; “Has anyone seen my Rudolph G-string?”; “Horatio, come down here and see what your sperm’s grown into!”; and “What does any of this have to do with Christmas?”
XMAS!10 is more than just a musical study break—it’s a musical that will both keep you laughing and ask you to consider what Christmas really means to you. (And leave you more fond of porpoise puns than you ever thought you’d be in your life.)
Christmas (the girl, not the holiday) via event Facebook page