As far as we know, Michael C. Hall has no designs on the upcoming Cats movie, but he’d have made a fine Rum Tum Tugger, at least judging by today’s one-time-only, nice-way-to-pass-a-Sunday Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical.
Only 1,500 New Yorkers – some paying a couple hundred bucks for a seat at Manhattan’s beautiful Town Hall, ticket proceeds going to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS – can lay claim to witnessing this half-hour Super Bowl commercial that wasn’t really a Super Bowl commercial. Numbers aside, Hall tore into the musical like it was, well, Broadway (technically, Town Hall isn’t, but close enough).
Some background: The project started a couple Super Bowls ago, when Skittles owner Mars teamed with advertising agency DDB Worldwide to come up with something attention-getting. Following last year’s Clio-winning “Exclusive the Rainbow” spot, in which one Skittles fan was granted access to the commercial and the rest of the country watched his reaction, this year’s adventure in advertising kicked things up a notch or several.
Directed by Sarah Benson, with music by Drew Gasparini (Smash), lyrics by Nathaniel Lawlor and book by Lawlor and playwright Will Eno, Skittles starred Hall, playing himself, and an ensemble of game troupers in an absurdist rabbit-hole of a tale that parodied Super Bowl advertising while advertising the hell out of those fruit-flavored candies.
So with no spoiler alerts necessary – you’ll never see the likes of Skittles again – the plot was this: On Feb. 3, 2019, various and sundry New Yorkers wander inside a Manhattan bodega, making ready for the Big Game, some mentioning the large crowds outside – the first of many self-references to the Skittles event itself – when in walks Michael C. Hall himself, dressed in a cat costume that he explains is for a Super Bowl commercial.
Hall is in a grouchy mood, unhappy with himself for selling out and feeling silly in the cat suit. Soon enough he’s belting out the first of the show’s three very catchy show-tune-style songs, this one called “This Might Have Been A Bad Idea.” (“Sometimes,” he sings, “things turn out exactly as you fear”).
Then, after popping a Skittle and changing his mind about his decision (“I’ll win a Tony!”), Hall is interrupted by one complaining audience member after another.
“I don’t really get what’s going on,” says a guy who identifies himself as Mitch from St. Petersburg (Largo, technically). “I thought this was gonna be one of those crazy ads with talking animals, like the ones that are on during the game.”
Asked why he’s dressed like a cat, Hall barks, “Because my character in the Skittles play…”
“Wait, isn’t this the Skittles play?,” asks audience guy.
“In our reality, yes,” says Hall. “But in the reality of the play, there’s a different Skittles ad.”
Yells someone else, “If I’m not enjoying the show, which reality is that in?”
And so it goes until a frustrated Hall storms off the the stage, and a loudspeaker declares the show over. It’s not, though: A set change turns the bodega into the outside of the Town Hall theater, as the street scene depicts the disgruntled audience members confronting Hall, now in mufti, as he leaves the theater.
“We were duped once again by a marketing stunt and Skittles,” they sing as Hall walks by, “and you sir, are to blame!”
All that’s left is for the big cri de coeur showstopper – “Advertising Ruins Everything” – and for Hall to remind his stalkers that they are all actors in a commercial, leaving them angry enough to kill – which they do – and taking the musical full bore into Ionesco territory. There’s a riot, a return to the bodega, a trip to the afterlife, Winston Churchill and Amelia Earhart, and a final rejoicing that, regardless of whatever hell they’ve been through, the theater’s concession stand sold nearly 600 packs of Skittles.
“I died for a Skittles ad,” sings a rueful Hall, now in white and Jacob Marley chains. “But I’m glad you’re all relaxed. Could someone water my plants, and maybe feed my cats?”