In one of the most pitch-perfect moments of last night’s Varsity Show, John Goodwin, playing a young CC professor who insists that students call him by his first name and holds his office hours at 1020, declared that “CC is not about reading the great philosophers. It’s about students with different viewpoints coming together to be offended.” Much the same can be said of the Varsity Show’s reputation and past few efforts. But last night, there was no laundry list of jokes to be made and the plot was not carried by stereotypes. V116’s writers chose to focus on the minutiae of our lives and with their extraordinarily talented team of actors and musicians created a simple, memorable show.
Most of what crippled V116’s predecessor (and even its own February preview) healed by the time the actors took the stage last night. The writers delivered a few refreshingly pan-Columbian storylines with more camp than bite: a SEAS senior (Yonatan Gebeyehu) and a Barnard junior (Jenny Vallancourt) find it difficult to fall in love when Public Safety keeps kicking them off South Lawn, and a grad student can’t and won’t find his way in the real world.
The show was not without its faults, but a fantastic cast made us forget them: a dull subplot about Barnard’s domineering Dean Denburg (Spencer Oberman) could have been removed from the show entirely if it weren’t for Oberman’s strong performance, and the energy of Gebeyehu and Vallancourt helped to compensate for their somewhat shallow characters. The couple’s romantic duet on the lawns, for example, did fool us into thinking that the two were actually in love, though his supposed awkwardness and her alleged distress left us unconvinced.
Columbians are world-class experts at creating nostalgia, but we’d like to think that last night’s show took VShow back to its 116-year-old roots. Veering from Scrubs-style cutaway humor to sketch comedy reminiscent of Saturday Night Live, the later scenes felt disjointed and choppy. V116 needed to make a choice between sketch comedy and a full-blown musical. Their mistake was trying to do a little bit of both, when one would have made the show stronger and clearer. Still, the performers’ ace delivery kept us happy. Alex Hare’s Sam—a flawless and versatile sidekick character—brought down the house in an otherwise plot-irrelevant Bwog cameo that regrettably ended his character’s development too early.
The highlights of V116 came in the minutiae, as they should for every Varsity Show. That the plot may have wavered or that the characterizations were a tad underdone is not what we will remember and talk about. A sketch about the Milano sandwich counter, an awkward conversation set to the dulcet tones of the Lerner piano-guy, and the invasion of cult-like COOP kids worshiping a frisbee will stay with us instead.
Even better, V116 was not just another riff on our collective, compulsive hate for Columbia. Opening with a spring day and closing on a genuinely positive note of acceptance rather than indifference, the show suggests a new outlook on life that its wonderfully short two hours’ (including laughs and intermission!) length keeps without getting sappy. “We’re all just as bad as you are,” the cast sings in the finale. As the horrors of finals week approach, it was good to remember that we’re all in this together.
Said one Bwogger, “I actually got warm fuzzy feelings.” And for a show that’s long been essentially a giant roast of the Columbia campus, that’s no small feat.
– The staff of Bwog and The Blue & White