If you asked me what my favorite musical was and I answered "Skittles," you would probably assume that I was having a stroke. But you'd be sadly mistaken, at least in that particular instance. "Skittles" is a viable answer to that question because there's a super weird new marketing trend whereby corporations shell out cash to put on elaborate musical productions with the moral of "Follow yours dreams, as long as your dream is to buy this product!"
It started in 2018, when Carl's Jr. opened a restaurant in Manhattan (you can go to it after you've visited literally every other restaurant in NYC), and decided to promote it by giving away tickets to a burger-themed musical called Written In The Stars. It's a little generous to call what Carl's Jr. did a "musical," since it contained only one song and lasted 30 minutes, yet was still somehow 45 minutes too long.
Written In The Stars revolves around a giant Carl's Jr. logo named Happy Star trying to make it as an actor in New York. The logo costume is plainly very hard to move in, and probably even harder to breathe and by extension sing in, which leaves Happy Star to flail about like he's trying to play charades with the prompt "drowning." But the entertainment world is too much for even the happiest abomination of capitalism, and Happy Star quits to follow his love of making hamburgers. The moral of the play is something about chasing your dreams, even though Happy Star clearly gave up on his dream. But who cares, because acting sucks and hamburgers rule.
Seeing Carl's Jr.'s, ummm, success(?), skincare empire Olay decided to jump in on that sweet action with their own show, The Road To Glow. Olay's musical stomps the Carl's Jr's one into the dust, production-wise. We're talking costume changes, more than six performers (including some that aren't buried in a tomb of their own logo), and an actually kind-of-famous cast member (former SNL cast member Ana Gasteyer).
The weirdest thing about the Olay musical is that it's based on a series of short musical commercials they did online, and if you haven't seen those, you're missing a lot of context for what is truly the Avengers: Endgame of the Facial Cleanser Cinematic Universe. The focus is a woman who has lost her glow and is transported by a magical jar of face cream to the Land of Glow to get it back. She's guided by Gasteyer, who plays the heartwarming role of the algorithm that Olay uses to recommend skincare products to people (really). The show is 75% Gasteyer reading the back of Olay product bottles, but it's 2019, so that must be at least one person's fetish, right?
The best of these, though, is the Skittles musical, which probably has something to do with the fact that it was written by Will Eno, who was once nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. When a man that talented turns his attention to Skittles, you better believe Skittles are going to rock your fucking world. But there's also a chance that I like the Skittles musical so much because I didn't have to watch all of it. It was a one-night-only event that took place during the Super Bowl, and while there are bootleg clips online, there's no full official recording.
My opinion of the Skittles musical is based mostly on the cast album, which you can and absolutely should listen to on Spotify, because it's a certified jam. The album includes three songs and one four-minute recording of the show's star (Michael C. Hall from Dexter) eating Skittles in a very sexual way. I'm warning you about the sexy way Michael C. Hall eats Skittles so that you don't accidentally blare a recording of him yelling, "MMMM, it's been so long ..." in a Starbucks like I did.
Without actually seeing it, it's hard to say what the Skittles musical is about, but from my intensive research, I know that at some point during the show, audience members come onstage and kill Michael C. Hall, and then later it's inferred that his death was worth it because he sold 600 bags of Skittles. Now I can only see the value of human life in bags of Skittles. Hey, I bet that's what their marketing team was going for! I'm worth 12 Skittles, by the way.
It's a little unclear what the goal is with these things. Olay's seemed to have the clearest marketing vision. Everything onstage, even a cake box, was branded with #Olaylive on it, and having your phone out during the show was encouraged. They also invented a Tony category for themselves, and then campaigned for it on a platform of "LOL wouldn't it be so stupid if you gave us a Tony? Hahaha, but really, give us a Tony, wink."
I don't know how many tweets about face cream equal a sale for them, but they obviously have some kind of formula for that which made a musical seem like a good idea. Skittles is the only one that could have plausibly turned a profit directly off their production. Olay and Carl's Jr. both gave away tickets to their shows for free, but Skittles sold out a 1,500-seat theater (and tickets cost between $30 and $300), although they donated a portion of the proceeds to charity.
Did anyone suddenly become insanely loyal to Skittles after seeing Michael C. Hall murdered onstage? Would winning a Tony in a fake category it made up for itself get women to buy more of Olay's new facial mist, a real product that sounds like a thing you pay for in a truck stop bathroom? After watching the Carl's Jr. logo desperately try to emote for 30 minutes, did anyone buy a single hamburger?
Somewhere these questions have been answered, and it kind of seems like the answer has to be yes, right? Otherwise why would they keep trying to translate their products into live theater? If they really are in some way an effective marketing tool, look forward to a lot more branded musicals in the future. And in preparation for this, I'm currently working on a draft of the Hefty trash bags musical, Stinky Sack ... Of Dreams.
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