The Varsity Show’s West End Preview

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        Last night, the cast and crew of the 114th Annual Varsity Show performed two half-hour previews. Deep in the nether regions of the “dive bar” formerly known as the West End, students and parents, as per tradition, filed into seats and booths around in the open space and piano in the back.

The preview was narrated by Judith Shapiro, played charismatically by Lauren Glover, BC ‘09. The plot was loosely based around the idea that this was
J.Shap’s “last fireside chat” before Debora Spar, her newly-named replacement, takes over. D.Spar has some “large Birkenstocks to fill,” according to the ridiculously self-aggrandizing J.Shap.        

The show shifted from the President’s office in Milbank to the BC Dance Department. Four girls in I <3 BC shirts cracked mostly stale jokes about anorexia and bulimia—Barnard babysitters expressing jealously that their kids weren’t hungry and kept throwing up. The dance class, cleverly titled “Dancing for Change and Changing for Dance,” was one of the best scenes in the preview, due in large part to the perfect casting of Laura Kleinbaum, CC ’08, as theoried-out (post)modern dance instructor Anette Schneider who believes that Hitler’s minions “were dancing” when they marched for Nazism. 

Obviously infatuated with Schneider, the four dancers (most of who are adept physical comedians) blindly and vigorously followed Schneider’s instructions to dance “truth”, “transitional justice”, and “modernism… no! post modernism.”

            In the corner of the dance classroom, Sarah Dooley, BC ’11, played a girl (who we’re led to believe is in the College) as Michael Snyder, CC ’10 played a Swarthmore transfer named Dan. Dan was an obvious Morningside neophyte: He doesn’t think he’s allowed “up there” (referring to Pisticci), he (gasp!) ate at Pertutti, he’s not sure where LaSalle is. “It’s the number between 123 and 125,” the girl of nebulous school affiliation explained. This line was very well received, unlike many of the standard-fare Barnard jokes that followed as J.Shap ended the scene.

In fact, much of the preview seemed to be one extended Barnard joke. This came off as lazy, as the jokes that were made weren’t daring or new and instead of using something just as relatable—Ahmadinejad comes to mind—the writers opted for the road more traveled. And because the show was narrated by Judith Shapiro, it was impossible to escape the Barnard-centricity.

Back in Dan’s room, we meet his fratty, misogynistic SEAS roommate (Tobin Mitnick, CC ‘10.) We quickly learn that the SEAS student has been having women troubles, an unfortunate circumstance not helped by the fact that he has a restraining order from Barnard College. Apparently, there was an incident involving “Jeffery Hunter Northrop, prescription pain pills, and Hewitt.” It was funny for the taboo of actually naming Columbia’s most lecherous Lothario, but could have been improved by adding specifics: Did JHN2 put date-rape drugs in Hewitt food? The audience, unfortunately, may never know.
The two characters also sing the preview’s first song, a duet called “Well, Woman” (a pun on Barnard’s alliterative health services). The melody wasn’t very catchy, and the lyrics sounded like Facebook group titles (SEAS student singing about lying tangential to your curves and the like), but the talent of the actors was evident regardless. However, the first song of the night came over halfway into the preview, which is much too long for a preview show for a quasi-musical.
The show catches up with J.Shap, who’s at some sort of Manhattanville development celebration hosted by Dean Quigley (Bollinger couldn’t attend because his hair was still in the dryer, Quigley explained). The guests, who include Will Snider, CC ’09, as Director of Public Safety Jim McShane, mill about as they sip from martini glasses. “You can consume these Manhattans without being labeled racist!” Quigley announced in a (perhaps unintentionally) overly-campy British accent.              

Snider’s McShane was unquestionably the high-point of the scene, and perhaps garnered the largest laughs of the night. His re-enactment of Medea and his warning to J.Shap to “don’t let the door rape [her] on the way out,” were brilliant in an oddball, un-P.C. sort of way, but McShane’s relative anonymity might hinder the success of the jokes. McShane, like Kieron Cindric’s wonderful Republican journalist, were undoubtedly the most interesting and creatively conceived characters of the show.                

Things quickly turned political with J.Shap’s mention of Nadia Abu El-Haj, (or “Bu-Bu”). The hunger strikes (and the anti-hunger strikers, and the anti-anti hunger strikers) marched in with a white bed sheet and the night’s second song. This one was catchy and funny, and as the cast and chorus sang about anti-hate crime and anti-anti hate crime, they held clever signs with slogans like “Too Meta to Matter” and “Too Callow to Care.”
The writers did an excellent job of covering a ton of topical material in only thirty minutes, and unlike West End previews of years past, the scenes were consistent; there were only one or two jokes to just fall flat. It was absolutely impossible to differentiate between the cast and the chorus, which maybe could have been avoided by only using the chorus sparingly. The cast—their singing and acting abilities and potential characters—should have been showcased. Based on the strength of the cast and creative team, the year’s Varsity Show looks as strong a show as ever. But it’s the talent of the cast (and the quality of the songs, of which there were too few) that’s such a large part of why people get excited for the Varsity Show and that should have been better exemplified.


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  1. yup  

    i too was disappointed

  2. um...

    this review is so poorly written! I thought the first song was extremely catchy. It was jazzy and delightfully sung.

  3. Smug

    It isn't a "dive bar". No establishment where the bathrooms have toilet paper, booze that has been aged more than five weeks, and all the patrons have homes can be properly called a "dive bar".

  4. mmmmmm  

    it sounds like this was written by a Barnard student, the Barnard jokes in the show were really quite funny.

    the show was great. everyone I talked to loved it.

    • Hahaha  

      Seriously, this post is formatted like shit. Some paragraphs are separated by one line break, some two. Halfway through, the justification switches from ragged right to flush right. AHHH.

  5. haha  

    jhn the second...ftw

  6. barnard

    jokes never get old. ever. period. that's all. and I so totally go there. I totally do.

    • sure, but  

      it's nice to have a little bit more original humor. I agree with #5; generic Barnard jokes are just annoying. Will Snider's Barnard Joke Jerry freshman year was incredibly well written and cast, but the jokes this time were horribly disappointing. The cast and writers clearly have talent, but it's not quite showing up in a lot of the lines right now...

      • i loved  

        Barnard Joke Jerry. ("What's the difference between cheddar cheese and a Barnard girl? Cheddar cheese isn't a fat... lesbian... slut!") That was a great show, crashing set and all. Last year's was weak.

  7. what was the  

    real name of this West End performance?

    The Barsity Show!

  8. The  

    BC Dance Department is pretty whacked-out. Ample material right there.

  9. I thought it  

    was funnier than last year's preview (and last year's show) and I really liked the chem major nerd and that her fav. restaurant is Pisticci. Also, can't go wrong with the awkwardness between girls and guys at Columbia. And Judith was very well played.

  10. hey  

    past west end previews had no coherence, so I thought they did a good job showing us actual characters. The review says the cast and chorus were indistinguishable, but I thought it was made obvious by the fact that the cast had their own characters.

    To all the barnard haters, the barnard jokes weren't as lame as past shows. The fact that jshap was making a lot of them gave it a different twist than just cc students bashing barnard. I really liked the songs but also wished they had done more.

    overall i really liked it

  11. oh damn it

    really? rape jokes? why do people think those are funny?

  12. Veesh  

    BLOWS. booooo.
    Also Pisticci went under. NO LONGER RELEVANT.

  13. this is really badly

    usually when one writes "to" and then the pronoun "who" it reads
    "to whom" not "to who."

  14. huh  

    they have SO much meat to work with...where is it?

    ahmadinejad? hunger strike?

    are they scared of not being PC?!?

    you can do barnard jokes ANY. YEAR.
    this year was too funny for that. really.

  15. whoops  

    i never finished reading the review before i posted. ignore that, sorry

  16. one opinion  

    Every cast member was amazing, 100%. Sadly, I agree that the writing was mediocre and none of the music was catchy.

  17. varsity show gossip  

    SOMEBODY got knocked up. look into it bwog.

  18. sorry I missed out

    but unsurprised to hear will snider killed it. the man's a fucking machine: writing, acting, directing! he learns how to cook something other than burgers with bacon and eggs, and he'll be a real catch!

  19. ok, so

    this show was so funny, and the music especially was top notch...interesting content-wise WITH hilarious lyrics. y'all who didn't think it was catchy are clearly not real.

  20. wasn't

    the main character's name David? did this reviewer even see the show?

  21. OMG NO  

    Fruit paunch has nothing to do with Varsity Show. No one from fruit paunch is involved with this year's creative team

  22. well obviously  

    the songs were FAR better than last year's. not. a. question. kick-ass.

  23. awkward?  

    now that Pertutti's officially closed?

  24. wtf  

    This post came up way late and is too long and terribly written...

    The preview itself, however, was great. Did anyone else catch Kieron's allusions to Chris Kulawik in that protest song?? Would be so sweet if Kulawik was a character in the show...

  25. also  

    best joke: (sorry I didn't catch names)

    guy 1: But all that stuff worked on Barnard girls!
    guy 2: Apples and oranges my friend.
    guy 1: (grumbling) Yeah, apples and slutty oranges...

    I'm sorry but Barnard jokes really don't get old.

    • well  

      barnard jokes don't get old when they're actually good, like the one above. and there were other good barnard jokes in the show too, but there were just so many mediocre ones. after a while, it gets dull, we get it already. i can only hope that they were doing all the barnard jokes they had to see which ones worked and which ones didn't.

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