We went to the one-night-only event of the century.

By Darren Franich
August 31, 2015 at 09:50 PM EDT
Alex Dean

Sunday night in Hollywood, The O.C. got a musical. Kind of. Obviously, the Platonic Ideal of a musical based on The O.C. would be a massive Broadway-Vegas three-hour Julie Taymor budget-busting epic, with a functional onstage infinity pool that nobody ever swims in, and multiple LCD screens simulcasting the musical’s big plot events as episodes of show-within-a-show The Valley, and a third-act montage medley set to a mash-up of Rogue Wave’s “Publish My Love” and Flunk’s “Play” wherein Marissa falls in/out of psycho-love with Skeevy Oliver/Surfer Johnny/Bisexual Olivia Wilde/Awful Volchok — all of them played by Tate Donovan in wigs, for added Freudian resonance.

The Unauthorized O.C. Musical was an understandably modest affair, a one-night-only Live Read Plus brought to us by Original Penguin and Sucker Love Productions, with actors onstage reading lines mostly drawn from The O.C.‘s pilot. The dialogue mixed freely with a continual musical numbers drawn from the show’s soundtrack(-of-a-generation). Sometimes, apropos of nostalgia, the cast broke off the pilot script and performed iconic moments from throughout the show’s history. It was an exultant celebration, even if the single most important moment of the show happened offstage: Attendee Melinda Clarke (the actress who etched Julie Cooper into the stone of eternity) saying hello to Autumn Reeser (who played Taylor Townsend on the show and Julie Cooper in Unauthorized). Actually, the most important moment of the show was every time Autumn Reeser was Autumn Reeser. Taylor > Marissa, forever.

But the songs! So many songs! The cast energetically performed music from across The O.C.‘s four seasons. What follows is a ranking of those performances, based equally on performance, the integration of the music into the plot, and whether or not Autumn Reeser was involved.

21. “Float On” by Modest Mouse: I can’t think of a song title that sums up the moment of 2003 better than “Float On,” and I can’t think of a band name that sums up the moment of Seth Cohen better than Modest Mouse. But the decision to recast “Float On” as the Seth Cohen introduction song — while he’s playing videogames! — felt a bit too-much-too-soon. Surely, the point of Seth pre-Ryan is that he’s the opposite of floating on? And Pretty Little Liars‘ Brendan Robinson played Seth Cohen like Ron Livingston doing a Jim Carrey impression — a nice high-energy performance, but it also sanded off the already-pretty-well-sanded-down edges of Modest Mouse circa-sellout phase.

20. “A Bad Dream” by Keane: Well-sung by Tilky Jones, who as Ryan Atwood had the most difficult role in the show. Like, Ben McKenzie only just barely threaded the needle of Ryan Atwood the Tough Innocent Smart Dumb Blue-Collar Model Twentysomething Teenager — and McKenzie never had to sing. Also not helping matters: the “Bad Dream” number led to Unauthorized‘s least sequitur scene interjection: Ryan wakes up after his first night in the Cohen’s poolhouse, and suddenly flash-forwards to s04e01, promising Julie Cooper that he will avenge her daughter. This interjection seemed purely designed to give Autumn Reeser more to do, hence “Bad Dream” getting promoted to second-least-best.

19. “Hallelujah” as performed by Jeff Buckley: It was inevitable — perhaps even mandatory under California law — that Unauthorized would feature a final-act group performance of “Hallelujah.” After all, the first season of The O.C. ended with the greatest “Hallelujah” montage in a decade that in hindsight feels like one big “Hallelujah” montage. There are mornings— when you are not quite awake but no longer quite asleep — when you imagine that time has stood still ever since The O.C.‘s “Hallelujah” montage, that it is still May 2004, that “Yogalates” never got out-Yogalate’d by SoulCycle, that if you could only hurry down to the Newport Beach harbor you could sail after Seth toward Tahiti. Where was I? Oh, the cast sang pretty well, but points deducted for the song not lasting forever.

18. “Goodnight and Go” by Imogen Heap: Remember that Imogen Heap song from the season 2 finale of The O.C.? No, no, no, the other Imogen Heap song from the season 2 finale of The O.C. Well, Unauthorized slapped that song into the middle of the pilot episode’s fashion show. Now, listen: Nobody will ever badmouth Imogen Heap songs from the season 2 finale of The O.C. But I might modestly suggest that, given the limited running time of the show, there was maybe room for non-Heap iconic tracks. Thus, this merely-pretty-good performance of “Goodnight and Go” stands in direct competition to the performance of Patrick Park’s “Something Pretty” and the performance of the 88’s “How Good It Can Be” and the performance of Nada Surf’s slowed-down version of “If You Leave,” none of which appeared in Unauthorized, all of which play on eternal repeat in the dark corner of my head where The O.C. exists as an infinite fourth-dimensional diorama.

17. “Swing Swing” by the All-American Rejects: Recast onstage as a “Ryan and Seth are wacky new pals” number. Ah, the All-American Rejects. How ironic: In the end, all America rejected them.

16. “Champagne Supernova” as performed by Matt Pond PA: The weirdest thing about O.C. nostalgia is that so many of the GIF-able Tumblr moments that people pass around today like holy relics frequently emerged out of the show’s lame periods. Hence: The Upside-Down Spider-Man kiss in “Rainy Day Women,” an all-time-great diamond in the “Episodes About Lindsay” rough. Unauthorized turned “Champagne Supernova” into a big group number with a hero moment — onstage, “Seth” ripped off his proto-hipster collared shirt revealing a Spider-Man shirt! But “Champagne Supernova” happened onstage before Stage-Seth had even met Stage-Summer for the first time, so points deducted for lack of emotional context.

15. “All Around the World” by Cooler Kids: Serious question, though. Does anyone remember the song that plays during the pilot-episode fashion show? Isn’t the whole point of that song that it is so resolutely un-O.C.-like, this weird remixed dance number that stands in complete and even comic opposition to the show’s usual preferred (don’t-call-it-)emo soundtrack? Anyhow, Unauthorized pretended this song was important and turned it into a musical number for the actresses, which meant Autumn Reeser was singing.

14. “The Sound of Settling” by Death Cab for CutieDid we ever find out who Cutie was? Is Cutie like Godot in Waiting for Godot, like, the Death Cab never comes? Or maybe we’re all Cutie, and the “Death Cab” is society? Anyhow, a nice solo number for Stage-Seth. Brendan Robinson killed the part of the song where you just sing “Ba-baa-baaa” for a couple minutes.

13. “Strange and Beautiful (I’ll Put a Spell on You”) by Aqualung: I mean no disrespect to Mischa Barton, who will live in eternity no matter how many faux-lesbian Russian-pop-star meta-biopics she stars in. But one of the most interesting things about watching The Unauthorized O.C. Musical was how the show opened a window into an alternate universe where Marissa Cooper was the most interesting character on the show, and also a recognizable human person with un-Vulcan emotions. It helped that Stage-Marissa Molly McCook had legit pipes, demonstrated in this moving duet with Stage-Ryan (which popped up a couple times in the show.)

12. “We Used to Be Friends” by the Dandy Warhols: Sung by Stage-Ryan early in the show, while he’s calling up friends and family looking for a place to stay. I secretly have always found this song annoying — like, nails-on-chalkboard annoying, George-Lucas-cameo annoying, any-subplot-about-getting-into-college annoying. Unauthorized almost changed my mind. Almost.

11. “Hello Sunshine” by Super Furry Animals: Maybe the single funniest music cue from The O.C., “Hello Sunshine” plays a couple times in the Seth-and-Summer-Have-Sex episode. In general, anything that was funny or meta or self-aware on The O.C. worked less well onstage — probably because it’s impossible to sell “funny meta self-awareness” onstage. Still, the decision to turn “Hello Sunshine” into a big group number led to some of the night’s biggest laughs.

10. “California” by Phantom Planet: Sung very gradually across the opening sequence of the stage show. Ably performed, although we all know that no one will ever sing “California” as well as you sang “California,” every Wednesday night in early 2004, while you watched the opening credits for the new episode with your roommate and your neighbors and maybe a random guy who couldn’t get back to his house in time to watch The O.C. and so he ran down the street yelling “Please, please, please, who will let me watch The O.C. with them?” because back then there was no iTunes no Netflix no DVR besides your parents’ TiVo that never worked.

9. “Life is a Song” by Patrick Park: For the musical’s epilogue, singer-songwriter Betty Who performed her own acoustic version of this Patrick Park ditty. Who had played a couple different characters throughout Unauthorized, and her presence gave the whole show an added layer of music cred. Although watching Unauthorized, I started to wonder if The O.C. was the moment that the whole idea of “music cred” started to trend hazy. Like, was The O.C. the coolest teen soap ever because it used indie rock, or was indie rock forever Flanderized by becoming the soundtrack of teen-soap melancholia?

8. “Smile Like You Mean It” by the Killers: My pick for the single best reimagination of an iconic soundtrack song. On the original O.C., this was performed by the Killers onstage, at synergy dungeon The Bait Shop, in a sequence that involved Lindsay and Bisexual Olivia Wilde. Unauthorized recast the song as the debut performance by/psychological-status-defining musical number for Stage-Marissa. Also marked the first introduction of Autumn Reeser as Julie Cooper. SIDE NOTE: Another Platonic Ideal version of The O.C. Musical would be Autumn Reeser playing all of the characters.

7. “Cartwheels” by the Reindeer Section: In the long dark years since The O.C. left us all alone here on this declining planet, I had misremembered “Cartwheels” as a Snow Patrol song. It is, in fact, a song from the Snow Patrol guy’s side project. As performed onstage, it was a group number mainly notable for the moment when Autumn Reeser changed the lyrics from “I’m doing cartwheels” to “I’m turning cartwheels” — because Autumn Reeser thinks your gerund game could use some work, Snow Patrol guy.

6. “Paint the Silence” by South: Sandy and Kirsten always stole the show from the younger characters, so it’s appropriate that Neil Hopkins and Christine Lakin stole the stage every time their Sandy and Kirsten took the spotlight. Unauthorized used “Paint the Silence” as the debut song for the couple. It didn’t quite make sense in context, since “Paint the Silence” is really intended to be the audio incarnation of the moment you have hit some rock-bottom pit of break-up melancholy and the clouds suddenly part on your cold gray world and a single ray of sunshine falls upon your face, reminding you of a time in your life that was happy and promising that perhaps somehow someday someway in some distant future when you are older and wiser and really a different person you will be happy again, and the sadness you felt long ago will fade into the myth of distant cosmic vapor. Still, Hopkins and Lakin made it work.

5. “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap: It has been over 10 years since the season 2 finale of The O.C. I am willing to accept the argument that there have been better season finales in that decade. I am not willing to accept that there has been a better single musical moment in a season finale than “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap playing while young fake Tom Hardy slow-mo reacts to the hole Marissa just blew in his shirt.

Unauthorized staged this moment as the start of the show, which led to some immediate whiplash. (I might have saved it for later, or maybe made an entire spinoff musical out of that single scene.) But it was lovingly rendered with the cast members harmonizing Imogen Heap’s gonzo-cool multi-channel self-harmony. I give it seven thumbs up.

4. “The Way We Get By” by Spoon: My pick for Single Best Non-Reeser Performance Of The Show was Drew Seeley as Luke Ward. Playing the water polo bro-gargoyle, Seeley successfully bottled The Essence of Carmack. In his big solo number, he took Spoon’s excellent slacker cruise-tune and recast it as an Evil Bro Anthem.

3. “Forever Young” as performed by Youth Group: The show’s greatest-hits approach led to an endearingly slapdash narrative structure. But it also led to this great sequence, which transported Ryan and Marissa from the pilot-episode fashion show, to the s03e04 closing montage when Marissa says the next song that comes on the radio will be their song and “Forever Young” plays, to the s03e16 moment when “Forever Young” plays again while Ryan and Marissa break-up via telephone. The Ryan-Marissa break-up is a weirdly realistic emotional moment in an otherwise absurd season of television. Onstage it played like youth dying all over again but then living forever in a castle in the clouds.

2. “Maybe I’m Amazed” as performed by Jem: Sung here as a duet between Sandy and Kirsten. I saw Jem perform “Maybe I’m Amazed” at Coachella 2005. It was awesome; this was better.

1. Medley of “Into Dust” by Mazzy Star and “Dice” by Finley Quaye: Almost unfair to even include this in the ranking. “Into Dust” is the Ryan-Carries-Drunk-Marissa-To-The-Poolhouse sad-love ballad, and “Dice” is the Ryan-Runs-Upstairs-To-Kiss-Marissa-At-New-Year’s-And-Tell-Her-He-Loves-Her love-eternal ballad. Mashing those two songs together? Too much! The only thing better would be if Unauthorized also took the opportunity to suddenly flashforward to the moment in season 4 when Julie Cooper and Ryan share memories of now-dead Marissa, and Julie Cooper says “She had a beautiful smile.” Unauthorized did that! WITH AUTUMN REESER!

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