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.