Core Conditioning: The 118th Annual Varsity Show

Written by

Plz tr0ll b3low

Update: All the songs from the show are now available online.

When writing a show for an audience that consists of Columbia’s entire undergraduate population, basing the plot around the Core seems like choosing the easy route: It’s something that everyone can relate to, it provides cookie-cutter jokes and references, and it’s relatively low risk. It is, however, a path rife with the pitfalls of predictability and ennui. Yet V118 doesn’t just sidestep these obstacles, but leaps over them with sparkle and wit. It goes above and beyond; questioning and criticizing Columbia as opposed to merely parodying her. V118 takes a smartly written plot and executes it with passion and gusto, giving all of us a chance to self-deprecate and still leave with our pride intact.

The show’s strongest quality is undoubtedly its relevance. The Core, pre-professionalism, the validity and worth of a liberal arts education—these are things that matter to all of us as Columbians. They’re on our minds. Constantly. V118 manages to pick most of these issues apart, while still taking a tongue-in-cheek approach that keeps the audience laughing throughout the show.

While Act I ran the risk of dragging, the plot and character development were both engaging and well-paced. Instead of getting bogged down by a complicated web of storylines like V117, this year’s show centered around the conflict between Niamh (which is not pronounced Neeeeee-am) O’Brien (Rebekah Lowin CC’14) and her Corporate Core, and a Columbia student named Phineas (Sean Walsh CC’14) who seeks nothing more than the permanent sanctification of Columbia’s liberal arts curriculum. Though the ending arrived somewhat suddenly and was slightly off-kilter, the message was nothing if not earnest and left us feeling happy and proud to be Columbians.

The sharply written script, by John Goodwin and Jeff Stern, both CC’12, surrounded both Niamh and Phineas with a host of lovable sidekicks. Like the plot itself, some of them ran the risk of being overly predictable: Derek (Alessio Mineo CC’14), the brown-nosing, business-minded student who desperately seeks Niamh’s official career fair recommendation; Claire (Eleanor Bray BC’14), the M2M obsessed Barnard girl playing the part of the love interest; Lexi (Jenny Singer, BC ’15), the tabloid-following foil to Phineas’s bookwormish tendencies. Clever writing, songs composed for their already strong voices, and a variety of chuckle-worthy scenarios kept these characters from falling into the background. Most endearing was undoubtedly Deantini (Gray Henry CC’14), whose performance flawlessly channeled all of the Dean’s endearing quirks while still growing and developing alongside the rest of the cast.

V118’s central cast had consistently strong vocal performances, and the variety of vocal styles (Niamh’s operatic falsetto versus Deantini’s low drone) set up entertaining contrasts. Most of the musical numbers were smartly crafted and well executed—the Butler stacks anthem “Nothing But Love” was our personal favorite. However, the Koronet v. Famiglia themed “Natural Selection” was a bit too odd as its dancing pizza theme left the world of believability established in other scenes, and “The One Percent” left us feeling drab, with the exception of Deantini’s rather hilarious interlude. “Another Epic Day!” was a great opener, and “Poor Little Lass” and “Alma’s Army” were solidly enjoyable. At times the choreography wasn’t as strong as it could have been, as actors repeatedly faced spacing issues. On the whole, however, the musical numbers were high-quality, and whatever the show lacked in choreography it more than made up for with terrific set design.

The set design was representative of the brilliance of the writing and jokes—it was fundamentally strong, but it was the small touches that really brought it home, such as the sink in Phineas’s Wien single and the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce sign at the career fair. Many of the punchlines followed this effective model: rather than try to work every scandal or significant event from the past year into the main plot, V118 instead distilled them into tremendously funny one-liners or asides (calling NoCo a “15-story coffee shop,” finding CUCR’s letter to Ahmadinejad in the stacks, working Obamanard into a breakup line). The show poked fun at other Ivies, Wall Street, and our own culture, predominantly with a strong dose of taste (jokes about GS and First Friday were probably the lone counterexamples).

With the end of the semester more or less here and finals looming, we recommend you set aside some time this weekend to see the Varsity Show. The plot is unabashedly Columbia College-centric (the sole mention of SEAS was a joke about Peña-Mora’s name), but the conflict between seeking knowledge and seeking employment is one every college student can relate to, especially come late spring. V118 gives us an opportunity to reflect lightheartedly on the past two semesters as well as Columbia’s overall culture, and this more critical approach, combined with hard-hitting jokes (the gym scene was incredibly apt, and a second use of the projector screen shortly before the finale had the audience in stitches) make for a great way to spend an evening. The core cast ran a little on the smaller side, but left little to be desired. Besides, we all know what happens when you get too many cooks in the kitchen…let’s just say that V118 is definitely Wilma.

This review represents the collective opinion of the Bwog staff and was authored by Brian Wagner

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  1. Creampuff Tyrd  

    I am pleased with this review.

  2. Anonymous  

    I loved the show. Especially the dancing pizzas and the inferno disco.

  3. Wasn't there  

    A pit orchestra?

  4. Anonymous

    So we're back to plot summary mode on Bwog, I see.

  5. Ooohhh  

    Bwog mentions the author's name! Well no one can say they don't learn their lesson.

  6. Anonymous  

    Niamh O'Brien...y u keep sending me e-mails I will never read?

    • Anonymous  

      I once emailed her and requested to be removed from her list. Her response:

      "Hi, [name]! Unfortunately, I cannot remove you from this list, since it is the undergraduate list and I do not have access. However, I hope you will continue to utilize CCE resources!"

  7. Anonymous

    I liked the Spooky Mormon Hell Dream ripoff.

  8. Anonymous  

    Little heavy on the Gulati references

  9. Loved it  

    Best VShow since I've been here and the first one to make me realize the point of Vshow for our campus. The pizza song was totally weird but the bwog song and the stunning rendition of Roar Lions Roar more than made up for it. The cast was brilliant and the story, while a bit choppy at the beginning, was really sweet and fun. Also, that set (and the various projection and lighting effects) was epic. So glad that this is the one I leave on.

  10. waah graduating  

    No seriously guys. this year's show is awesome. go see it.

  11. also  

    was anyone else wondering how the main guy's Barnard gf was able to get into his dorm room?

  12. copy editrix


    -Independent clauses after a colon get a capital letter.
    -Lists have parallel structure.

    What does it say about the quality of your editors that this is the first sentence of the one article you write painstakingly as an entire staff?

  13. Schoolhouse Rock!  


  14. awesome  

    it was genius

  15. Anonymous

    Do you all realize that we are making comments on BWOG just like they did in V118?!?! So cool right?! :D



  17. Anonymous  

    Does anybody know if Gulati has a wife?????

  18. Orli Matlow

    now i feel compelled to come out of the shadows!
    *pretension alert*
    the best theatrical experiences have you feel enlightened and perhaps even compel you to change your behavior and this show successfully did so!
    *end of pretension zone/run on sentence*

    MAZEL TOV to everyone involved! it was a truly fantastic show!!
    Also, Sean Walsh needs to play Elder McKinley in "The Book of Mormon"!!!

  19. seas12

    Jenny Singer looks so much like Rebecca Black!

  20. Anonymous

    The fake Kingsman "Cum Dumpster" flyer with PrezBo's face was the best sight-gag I have ever seen. AMAZING

  21. Can we talk about Deantini for a hot sec.  

    1. Holy shit, so funny.
    2. That rap was the highlight of my Columbia experience.
    3. "I got my job by killing Moody-Adams!"
    4. "Did you know there's a 15-story coffee shop next to Pupin?"
    5. Could go on forever.

    (I'm really just asking if Gray Henry is single).

  22. CC '13  

    hey yo bwog. If possible (it's probably not), could you interview niamh o'brien about being the subject of this year's show and what she thought about the production/the message/the "misinterpretation" of what CCE is about? I would really like to read that.

    ... Just thought I'd ask.

  23. CC '14

    I was absolutely blown away by this year's vshow. The music, the singing, the writing, and even the set design were all wonderful, and I must say I was VERY impressed by the sheer level of talent the wonderful cast and crew had to offer the Columbia community.

    And also, I think I'm in love with Phineas.

  24. BC '12  

    I don't think that's possible.

  25. So

    I absolutely loved the show. Definitely the best one I've seen. Congratulations to the cast, crew, and creative team. The sets were beautiful, the talent off the walls.

    But seriously, how has no one mentioned the complete and total inconsistency of the Barnard character? Other than saying "I go to Barnard" like twelve times, she seemed to go to CC. She fought in Alma's Army, ran into Phineas' room without being signed in, seemed to have a huge stake in the core curriculum....didn't make sense. I thought the show was amazing but as a Barnard student, I couldn't relate to anything, because that character didn't even seem to go to Barnard and the whole plot was about the core.

  26. cc '12  

    i wish they were selling a recording of the songs for this one

  27. reasons i want to see this a billion times  


    ^ THIS.

  28. Anonymous

    Columbia is the best!

  29. um  

    "...rather than try to work every scandal or significant event from the past year into the main plot, V118 instead distilled them into tremendously funny one-liners or asides..."

    You mean except for the song at the beginning of the second act, which was an absolutely spot-on parody of the Bwog comments section in the aftermath of Obamanard? And the scene following where Niamh got called by the major news outlets and said pretty much whatever it was PrezBo and DSpar said? Not only was this hilarious, it was probably one of the best satirical moments I've seen in any VShow.

  30. rundown/spoilers

    Favorite Lines:
    - "You can forget about that extra Commencement ticket!"

    - in the Stacks: "Oh look! From one of the Core originators in 19xx: "Please do some back-of-the-envelope calculations: "How much smaller is a woman's brain?"
    "How about Chapter X! OrientalHum..."

    - Deantini: “Did you know there’s a 15-story coffee shop next to Pupin?”

    - Deantini's C.U.N.T. and C.L.I.T.

    - "Beautiful, powerful Barnard bears against... actual bears."

    - Siri at the gym.

    - Scrotum McGee.

    - "Can you sign my Phinead?"

    - the a capella (?) part of "Roar Lion Roar" was absolutely stunning. As in my breath fled and school spirit started leaking from my pores. It was very much an "UNTIL THE END" sort of spirit.

    - catching the spirit of disillusionment that most of the student body feels regarding: a. our reputation of churning out bankers, and b. crappy economy in general, and c. columbia not putting in a lot of effort in maintaining a happy student body.

    - Somehow, the Gulati-loving subplot did not get as old as I had imagined. It did bring some pretty good laughs.

    - Lexie and Claire and Niamh - wow, I thought the writers did a pretty decent job on these women characters in specific (see Dislikes for rebuttal). Lexie especially ran the risk of being a source of flatness, but she did quite well.

    - PIT ORCHESTRA. so much kudos this year for the composers.

    - Trolling in the Deep.

    - the main female characters were (overall) quite good and well-rounded (still issues, but...), but it seemed like all the background female characters couldn't have passed a basic "is this a sexist portrayal?" test, no less Bechdel's. They were all very focused on sex and boys (except for that one nice bit in the Stacks. Vaginal center, indeed!).

    - lol the racial diversity on the set. yes, i know auditioning is a long difficult arduous process, but still... it was very, um, white this year.

    - Pizza song was probably the weakest of the entire repertoire.

    - I thought resolution was a bit rushed? i.e. everything after final PowerPoint. Especially on Phineas's side.

  31. i just want to say  

    thanks to the entire cast, and, more importantly, to the creative team, for creating such a wonderful note on which to end the academic year. i tip my hat to you all! (especially john, jeff, solomon, and tareq. MAN you guys are great!)


  32. Anonymous  

    Was anyone else disturbed by Koronets ethnic cleansing Famiglia?

    • Never

      has there been this much racism toward Italians in a Varsity Show since the off-kilter Sacco and Vanzetti parody from 1927, "Anarchovies"

      • proud(ish) italian-american

        i know this comment is a joke but FACT: this year's vshow playbill sez the writers considered making camille's a front for the mob as a plot point. WHY IS EVERYONE SILENCE ON THE ITALO-AMERICAN RACISM OF V118!?

  33. disappointed  

    ... it did not live up to the hype.

  34. WOW  

    JENNY SINGER (A.K.A LEXIE) IS SO FABULOUS, SO FIERCE AND GAVE A BRILLIANT PERFORMANCE. So, so impressed with the entire V118 cast!!!!!!!!!!!

  35. LOL Seriously?  

    Not one comment about the that gorgeous hunk of manflesh Alessio Mineo?

  36. J.K. Rowling  

    the plot of V118 is eerily similar to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix...

  37. Anonymous  

    AH LOVED THE SHOW. So sad I watched it on the last night. Where can I buy the soundtrack!?

  38. Anonymous  

    did no one here get the derrick fu reference? "just cuz you have a building named after you, derek ph....ilosophy"

  39. John Goodwin Fan Club  

    damn that boy can write... XMAS 4 was the best XMAS I've seen, and this was the best Varsity Show I've seen!

    Congrats to all involved, you deserve to be proud.

  40. Anonymous  

    Best V-Show since 114. Just sayin. Also, apparently, if your show is good enough, the bwog comments are positive. Who knew?

  41. Scrotumface McGee  

    The slanderous use of my name was unforgivable.

  42. Scrotumface McGee  

    It's Irish.

  43. Alessio's physique  

    can't trump the sheer eargasm that is Geoff's voice

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