I Experienced Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical. But What Is Experience?
I don't know how much it cost to produce the one-performance-only, 30-minute Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical, not actually on Broadway but at Midtown Manhattan's Town Hall, starring Michael C. Hall. But I can only assume it was less than the $5 million it cost to reserve a 30-second slot during what turned out to be the most boring Super Bowl ever — and that's including production costs for vinyl copies of the Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical cast album. Yes, that is a thing I own now.
Skittles has successfully held onto its title as most iconoclastic candy, upping the ante from 2018 when fans (?) tuned into Facebook Live to watch Marcos Menendez watch the secret Skittles Super Bowl ad, which apparently featured America's favorite Friends star David Schwimmer (but I guess the world will never really know). More people bore witness to this year's Game Day stunt in its entirety (Town Hall has a seating capacity of 1,495), but that's still nothing compared to the Super Bowl's typical 100 million-plus viewership (though I'd be surprised if more than 1,495 even made it to the end of Maroon 5's halftime show). So in the spirit of saving Broadway from an even more elitist reputation than it already has, I will attempt to cut through the mental fog and share as much as possible about the experience of existing at the hallucination that was the Skittles musical.
We'll certainly be returning to the concept of "existence," which naturally comes up in a two-and-a-half-song musical written by Will Eno (and directed by downtown theater figure Sarah Benson). But for those unfamiliar with Eno's work, allow me a contextual digression. Just a few months ago, Michael C. Hall performed Eno's nihilistic monologue Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) off-Broadway, and the piece has its title character circle a story about a bee sting and something about a boy and a dog, while periodically promising the audience a raffle that never actually happens. Eno's one-and-only Broadway credit came in 2014 with his play The Realistic Joneses (which also featured Hall), a nonsensical story that ends with this delightful piece of dialogue: "I don't think anything good is going to happen to us. But, you know. What are you going to do. I forgot, I grabbed some mints at the restaurant. I like mints. Mint."
Now, knowing all that, you'll understand why I say that the preshow diversions in the Skittles program feel on-brand. There's a dot-to-dot puzzle that looks like it will reveal a picture of Michael C. Hall holding a bag of Skittles (it doesn't, but in fairness, the instructions suggested, "connect all 50 dots, or don't connect them"). There's also a matching quiz with Skittles actors and different types of chairs, as well as a "Mega Sudoku" game that mega does not work. Your other preshow option is to…purchase Skittles. You can do so in the lobby of Town Hall or right onstage, which set designer Amy Rubin has transformed into a bodega that stocks a weirdly large number of sponges.
"Or don't connect them" pic.twitter.com/2LGnr3OCKW
— Sarah Moore (@imsarahmoore) February 3, 2019
The show finally opens on Storeowner (Ashkon Davaran, playing a hipster prone to existential crises) and Neighborhood Guy (Mark Zimmerman, a bodega regular who thinks he works there), who hear some "Game Day" hubbub outside (one of the only references to football in the whole musical). After Storeowner welcomes a few other shoppers (including Blake, played by Lulu Fall as an energetic Skittles enthusiast), Michael C. Hall enters as himself in a Cats costume (recreated by designer Ásta Bennie Hostetter, leg warmers and all).
Hall explains he's participating in a Skittles commercial that's "more of a…theatrical piece." Bodega shoppers ask if the audience will get free Skittles, which you, the audience member, realize you also assumed would be the case.
"No. No free Skittles. I think they're selling them before the show," says Hall.
A shopper named Gary responds, "Oh. Then I guess you'll sell a lot to everybody there."
Hall: "This isn't about selling a few bags of Skittles in a theater."
Gary: "What is it about?"
Hall: "You know what? I don't know."
You're relieved to know we're all on the same page.
Hall then wrestles with his career choice in the song, "This Might Have Been a Bad Idea" (boppy melody by Drew Gasparini and wry lyrics by Nathaniel Lawlor, who collaborated with Eno on the book). Patrons then start popping out of the audience to express their grievances with such a disappointing musical, except one man who voices America's need for a high-speed rail system. Hall replies with passing references to living in the here and now while also explaining the difference between the musical we're watching and the musical that's being referenced in the musical. Meanwhile, we're all ignoring the fact that just moments before, Storeowner stared into a mysterious abyss and shouted, "Please don't ruin my store!" So clearly, something weird is happening with the space-time continuum.
The audience riot causes an abrupt "end" to one layer of this Inception-y show, which then continues on a set that looks like the outside of Town Hall. Hall is there, now in street clothes, and we learn that these miffed patrons are unwitting participants in a Skittles advertising scheme, impugning consumerist culture and free will all at the same time (cue the song "Advertising Ruins Everything").
A violent mêlée ensues, leaving Michael C. Hall dead. Exit, pursued by a bear. Enter Hall's ghost and Winston Churchill.
Only upon leaving do you realize how apt Eno's Cats reference really was. Just as after a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's dance spectacular, you have no idea what just happened but you had a great time. And yet, in an attempt to make some sense of both Will Eno and existence itself, here are a few metaphysical lessons I've decided to take away from this nonsense journey through Candyland:
(1) You can try to reject commercialism, but you're always participating in it anyway, so you might as well lean in.
(2) Somewhere in the multiverse, Michael C. Hall is eating Skittles at a bodega in a Cats costume.
(3) I don't think anything good is going to happen to us. But, you know. What are you going to do. I forgot, I grabbed some Skittles at the theater. I like Skittles. Skittles.