Like many of you, last night the staff of the Blue and White attended the 115th Annual Varsity Show, “The Gates of Wrath.”
The Varsity Show should not be, as most people say, about collectively making fun of ourselves and our school. It’s about collectively doing something—anything—together. And last night, at the premiere of the 115th Annual Varsity Show, we spent three hours doing just that. From 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., the hundreds who gathered in Roone for last night’s sold-out performance met a cast of familiar Columbia stereotypes (a dishonest but well-intentioned i-banker, tragically underutilized SCEG types, etc.) as well as those who aren’t such perennial Morningside fixtures (a marriage-crazed debutante, a would-be Broadway star cursed with a gift for physics.) In the past, unrealistic characters have been created with great success in Varsity Shows—recall the ritzy GS character in the 2006 show and the creepy old man who lived in Carman in the 2007 show—but this year, it just happens that they weren’t funny imaginary characters (except for Patrick Blute’s spirited and charismatic portrayal of a megalomaniacal Dean Quigley, who bears little resemblance to the real thing). Enjoyable moments came mostly from minor characters and small quips tossed in, but these moments of hilarity were largely independent from the plot and the characters.
Still, stand-out performances from Yonatan Gebeyehu as President Bollinger and the Hallelujah Man (among other things), Giselle Gastell as the aforementioned theatrically inclined engineer, and Adam May, who nailed the few solid punchlines given to his troubled i-banker character, helped to salvage individual scenes. As one might expect from a three hour show, much of the material felt extraneous, particularly the inexplicable dance numbers “Satan is Coming to Town” and “Downtown,” both of which solicited looks of confusion from audience members surrounding the Blue and White. Save phenomenal solo performances from Kendale Winbush (playing an earnest CCer looking to transfer to NYU) and Gastelle, much of the music was unmemorable, and what was memorable was clunky. For instance, the chorus to the “Please, Don’t Go” was just bizarre: “Knees as weak as water/you make my heart stop its blood flow.”
However, last year’s lovely show suffered the same dearth of show-stopping numbers, but it succeeded on the strength of the writing and the quick and lucid plot development. This year, the best one-liners were, ironically, ones that had little to do with Columbia: “You can’t do anything with one bar,” yelled at a white MacBook and a reference to NYU’s “sexual reorientation” program were favorites among the staff of the Blue and White. Many of those zeitgeisty “it happened this year!” jokes felt tacked on and obligatory—as if the writers had a mental checklist and tried to make sure they hit every campus issue at least once. The show was also decidedly less crass than it was in previous years. A perpetually screeching and bouncing Barnard character seemed to be in heat (or something) but there was very little sexual innuendo compared to previous years. Accolades to this year’s design team, for constructing the wittiest set in recent memory, especially for the interior design job done on Dean Quigley’s lair, which was winningly monogrammed and festooned with tapestries and the Union Jack.
But regardless of whether it used stereotypes, rehashed jokes, or spoke to your experience, the Varsity Show didn’t do its job: it didn’t entertain, and a large reason for this can be explained by its sheer length. There was a funny and enjoyable 90 minute production in there–we wish we just could have seen that show.
–The staff of the Blue and White; illustration by Stephen Davan