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Trinity Lester / Staff Photographer

Xander Browne, CC '19, starred as Rudolph in "XMAS!11: North Pole State of Mind."

“Rehab has really changed me, you know.” It’s an opening line I would expect from an episode of “The Sopranos,” not from a musical about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

“XMAS!11: North Pole State of Mind,” this year’s volume of the annual holiday musical comedy, staged two hilarious performances this Monday in Lerner’s Roone Arledge Auditorium.

“We tried to expose a darker side of our fairy tale characters. I think in this dark year we wanted an XMAS! that reflected some of those worries,” director Alina Sodano, BC ’17, said.

Telling what Sodano described as “the untold story of Rudolph,” XMAS!11 follows a recovering eggnog addict, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Xander Browne, CC ’19), as he tries to rebuild his life after emerging from rehab. We learn that his admittance followed a terrible accident the previous Christmas in which he collided into an orphanage while high on nog and with “snow” up his nose. There were no survivors. Marred by these events and eager to start his life over, Rudolph moves to the “Island of Misfits,” Manhattan.

Trinity Lester / Spectator Staff Photographer

Throughout the production, Rudolph encounters a colorful cast of characters. For the first time in XMAS!’s history, one of these characters was a Columbia student, thematically named Noelle (Rachel Greenfeld, BC ’19). Plenty of jokes are made about this neurotic student’s confinement to the “Columbia bubble.” Greenfeld executed the painfully relatable role with all the customary stress-fueled energy that pervades our campus each finals season.

For the Columbia audience, the contrast between Noelle and cool, collected NYU student Camille (Megan Litt, BC ’17) was entertaining and aptly self-deprecating. Camille throws a party while Noelle admits that her favorite coffee shop in New York is Starbucks and that she’s never been to Queens. The show ends with a character misinterpreting a Martin Luther King Jr. quote, a jab at a recent controversial Spectator op-ed. Throughout the performance, there was plenty of humor that hit (delightfully) close to home.

These Columbia connections were only part of what made XMAS!11 so enjoyable. The show featured fantastic choreography, with multiple dance numbers that ended in eye-catching formations. The original song lyrics, written by April Cho, CC ’17, and Kunal Kamath, CC ’17, were clever and did a lot to enhance the story. We learn that Noelle has a dark past herself, as a child actor who appeared in advertisements promoting a yo-yo that ultimately broke the fingers off of multiple children. This gruesome backstory inspires a song and dance number with ensemble members humorously wielding yo-yos.

Another particularly memorable number was “Daddy Claus.” XMAS!11’s version of Santa bears a strong resemblance to Hugh Hefner, complete with a red velvet bathrobe, sequined Santa hat, and perpetually bare chest. His house features a giant portrait of himself, and there is no suggestion of a jolly Mrs. Claus in sight. In “Daddy Claus,” Santa (Jacob Iglitzin, CC ’19), accompanied by some raunchy choreography and suggestively dressed reindeer, encourages Rudolph to “lose himself at Santa’s party." Iglitzin portrayed the hedonistic role perfectly and got huge laughs from the audience.

Trinity Lester / Spectator Staff Photographer

The only downsides to XMAS!11 were some microphone issues. Other than rare patches of feedback, every aspect of the show, from the portrayal of the protagonist to the set, was well executed. Browne gave us a Rudolph we wanted to be redeemed. The set was minimal but whimsical, with an unfolding background that resembled a giant picture book with a different page for each location.

Sodano wrote in her director’s note, “While there is much to celebrate about the holiday season, for many it can be a challenging time.” With its cathartic tale of heartbreak and homecoming, XMAS!11 was definitely something to celebrate this holiday season.

XMAS!11 Columbia University Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
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