The 121st Annual Varsity Show: The West End Preview

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Alma Mater, feat. the cast of V121

Alma Mater, feat. the cast of V121

On Thursday night, the Varsity Show cast and crew put on their best black leggings and presented a preview of what we might expect come May. This took place in the very happening Diana Center Events Oval. Although they both very enthusiastically attended, Taylor Grasdalen primarily writes this review, with contributions from Mason Amelotte.

We were initially promised a “dramaturgical cosmos” by a less brooding, more turtlenecked John Lipton-type guy. He identified himself from the Barnard podium as the “head theatre critic for Bwog,” and has seen about four plays. Mason and I agreed that this was very fair and laughed; the crowd loved Michael MacKay, CC ’15, and his ambiguous accent. So began the West End Preview for the 121st Annual Varsity Show, directed this year by Molly Heller, JTS/GS ’15.

While plenty “dramaturgical,” the thirty-minute preview was a bit short of “cosmos.” It’s understandable! It’s okay! We’re “on the drug of musical theatre” here. We don’t learn the plot of V121 until the show premieres, and the songs and tangents are of course unruly without a plot to keep to. MacKay’s character was our guide through the vignettes and three songs, and did very well connecting these spots.

The show started with a financial aid office nightmare, the aid officers snorting coke and stuffing dollar bills in their mouths as students rang them up with their concerns. They swung at FAFSA and danced to the “short-change Charleston.” We were warned not to “drink the financial Kool-Aid.”

The frenetic first song was followed by a profoundly less screwball but better directed jab at the average Columbia seminar. Set in a gender studies class, students argue and compare struggles: “My ancestors are Irish so I completely understand,” “The reading reminded me of my mission trip to Bolivia…where the culture is just, like, different.” But the lines turned toward a tiny little story of love, how “love’s more fun when I fundamentally disagree with you.” Gabrielle Bullard, BC ’18, and Isaac Calvin, CC ’17, work really well, harmonize well, and fight respectably the awkwardness of being showered by condoms. They’re also both too beautiful for me to acknowledge anything else bad about this song.

Although choppy here and there, it all seemed to work as we built to the final song — set at senior night in Bernheim & Schwartz (“the Jewish German version of Chili’s”). Even within this piece itself, things got progressively sloppier, progressively stompier. But April Cho, CC ’17, turned on some real operatic skill, Megan Litt, BC ’17, rocked the lederhosen, and Sophie Laruelle, CC ’17, elicited a few whispers of “too real” from the audience.

Great were the musicians there pacing the night: Casey Adams, CC ’15, on drums; Sofia Geck, BC ’17, on piano; and Andy Shimm, CC ’17, on bass. I really look forward to the band’s playing more at the full show. Sam Balzac, CC ’17, and Fernanda Douglas, CC ’16: keep the songs coming — I still have the financial aid song stuck in my head.

Final thoughts:

  • I ship Bullard and Calvin’s characters.
  • April Cho needs more lines.
  • Michael MacKay shouldn’t change a single thing he’s doing. The turtleneck is working.

Featured image courtesy of The Varsity Show on Facebook.

Non-professional photography courtesy of the author.

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