Managing Editor Frankie DeGiorgio and Arts Editor Grace Novarr attended XMAS!18 this past Monday for some non-denominational Christmas fun. The show was written by Marino Bubba (CC ‘24) and Owen Mefford (CC ‘24), directed by Hannah Karsting (CC ’25) and associate directed by Tatiana S. Mroczek (BC ’25), produced by Caroline Itzkoff (BC ‘24) and Grace McCormick (BC ‘24), stage managed by Helen Goodman (BC ’27), with music and lyrics by Terry Foley (GS ‘24) and choreography by Morgan Johns (GS ‘26), and ran in the Glicker-Milstein Theatre on December 9-11. 

We’ll all die someday, and the holidays are a great reminder of that. With each subsequent Christmas, the cast of family members gathered around the tree morphs and fluctuates, and even as new siblings and cousins join the fray, other elements of our lives change all around us. White Christmases have been taken from us by global warming. Deforestation might lead to the thinning out of pine trees. All these holiday woes were clearly on the minds of the XMAS!18 writers, since this iteration of the annual student-written non-denominational holiday musical was focused around the chilling—nay, frosty—theme of mortality. 

This year, the entirely student-created musical ran for three days in the Glicker-Milstein Theatre, an extension of its typical run that allowed for more people than ever before to enjoy the seasonally appropriate show. Written by Marino Bubba (CC ‘24) and Owen Mefford (CC ‘24) and directed by Hannah Karsting (CC ’25), this year’s show began at the North Pole, where everything is alright, as the cast informed the audience during the opening number. The Clauses are a happy couple, Frosty the Snowman is there to uplift poor children who need a non-denominational holiday mascot, Blitzen and Rudolph definitely have their lives together, and the Fixer is there to put out any fires that might come up. Sure, the elves are unionizing, the Miser brothers (Heat and Snow) are carrying on a sexual relationship, and someone’s grandmother got run over by a reindeer. But everything will be okay, because that’s what Christmas is all about, right?

In fact, things start to go wrong when Frosty (Ethan Paulk, CC ‘25), clearly battling a case of depression, receives a phone call from his doctor that flips his whole world upside down. Rather than being immortal, as he’d believed, he has been diagnosed with a terminal case of The Melts. As Frosty confronts his mortality, he tries to open up to the people/holiday characters around him, yet no one is that interested in listening to him, until he opens up to The Grinch (Abby Svelan, BC ‘25), a sweetheart who’s sick of being branded “a mean one.” Paulk impressed with genuine dramatic acting and excellent vocals––all while wearing an ill-fitting snowman onesie. Svelan similarly lit up the stage with her contagious energy, and their chemistry brought a sweet, light-hearted note to an otherwise hilariously raunchy night. 

Meanwhile, Mrs. Claus—sorry, Roxane Claus (Shania Pahuja, BC ‘24)—is going through a mid-life (mid-eternity?) crisis and getting a spell of cabin fever regarding her marriage. She strikes up an affair with Rudolph (Vincent Snyder, CC ‘24), the star celebrity of the North Pole, who has accompanying drug problems and commitment issues. The Fixer (Hayley Lugg, GS ’24) is infuriated about this, as well as the persistent messiness of Blitzen (Estella Moster, BC ’27), who can’t hold her alcohol very well. Blitzen, meanwhile, just wants the Fixer to be her friend—after all, no one else wants to. In an attempt to shake Blitzen, Fixer tells her to keep an eye on Frosty and make sure he’s doing all right. However, Frosty and the Grinch skip town after the beautiful duet “In the Sun,” where the Grinch convinces Frosty that they need to leave behind the community that’s not making either of them happy. They decide that Key West is the new place to be, and Act Two opens with the two of them shaking and shimmying surrounded by Floridians.

Other North Poleites follow them there, however, including Roxy and Rudolph and Fixer and Blitzen. Fixer needs to get Frosty back and will resort to any means necessary, including chloroform. Meanwhile, Roxy is attracted to two aging Key Westers. Also, everyone just wants to party on the beach. The second act in particular was punctuated with multiple dance breaks, Morgan Johns’ (GS ’26) energetic, fun choreography complimented by the dancing skills of the cast. 

The musical numbers were consistently excellent, bringing a Broadway flair to Broadway and 118th. Composer and lyricist Terry Foley’s talent made each number stand out, but an astonishing highlight of the show were the “Ghost Interludes,” haunting a capella ditties performed by Lilly Gasterland-Gustafsson (BC ’25), Maya Debnath (BC ’27), and Wren Pfetcher (BC ’27), the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, respectively. These ghosts, frustrated by the lack of recent Christmas Carol adaptations, have decided to put their skills to better use and form a band. One song in particular, “For One Night Only,” was a rock-and-roll masterpiece, as the very enthusiastic audience member sitting next to us made clear. Gasterland-Gustafsson, Debnath, and Pfetcher are true vocal powerhouses, and honestly, they should start a band IRL. The ghosts’ prowess testified to how Foley’s mastery of different musical genres made XMAS!18 a truly entertaining show. 

Karsting’s accomplished directing assured there was never a dull moment in the show, visually or plot-wise. The design for the production was sparse, allowing the comedic and vocal talent onstage to shine and adding an additional layer of comedy to the piece. When the Fixer settled into their “hotel bed,” a table covered in a comforter, they quipped: “Ah, so comfortable. This doesn’t feel like a table at all.” The bare set also allowed the audience to get a peek at music director Eliza Heath (BC ’25) conducting the pit through the electric score. Costumes were similarly uncomplicated yet evocative. Frosty’s aforementioned snowman onesie, the Miser twins/lovers’ shimmery jackets, and Mrs. Clause’s Santa-themed swimwear were personal favorites. The improvisational energy of the set and costumes was balanced by the excellent sound design, shining particularly in a specific moment involving a baseball bat and a union organizing elf’s (Daisy Burckin, BC ’24) kneecaps, drawing a collective cringe of pain from the entire audience. 

Other highlights included Moster and Zach Brown (CC ’27) as Santa’s duet, with Moster in particular showing off her incredible vocal ability in a rare, serious moment for Blitzen. Blitzen started the show as your one clingy friend, but ended up stealing the second act with her beautiful voice and affecting love for Fixer. Lugg, too, shone as Fixer came to realize that their need to control everyone else’s life was not only creating a damper on everyone around them, but also destroying their own chance at happiness (#weareallFixer). Snyder, the team noted in their final speeches, stepped up last minute into the role, replacing Craig Cosentino (CC ’25). Synder was excellent as Rudolph, channeling the fuckboy with a soft side that we all have experience with. Right? Just me? Lucas Lugones (SEAS ’25) and Tommy Doyle (GS ’24) as the Snow and Heat Miser respectively were also uncomfortably hilarious as twin brothers with a secret sexual relationship that the Fixer was eager to sweep under the rug, or at least convince them to be a bit more subtle about. 

The show concluded with an ode to mortality: “We’re all going to the same place anyway!” The cast sang brightly, interspersing their woes with strains of “Silent Night.” The crew had passed around inflatable beach balls during intermission, and we were prompted to toss them on the stage in the final moment of the show. As balls snowed down around the cast, the audience all rose to our feet to give them a truly deserved standing ovation. The world may be melting, and Florida may be underwater before we know it, but there’s fun to be had in the meantime—a joyful reminder to take into this holiday season.

XMAS!18 via Olivia Kuan-Romano