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Review From Bwog Headquarters: The 116th Annual Varsity Show

Photo Courtesy of the Varsity Show

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

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78 Comments

  • As someone who hates bwog theatre reviews says:

    @As someone who hates bwog theatre reviews Well Done, excited to see the show.
    Congrats to all involved, break a leg tonight!

  • WOW says:

    @WOW Yonatan was amazing, stole the show!

  • Bravo, Bwog says:

    @Bravo, Bwog I commend you on a well written review!

  • Spec says:

    @Spec absolutely hated the show, but Bwog loved it. Im confused. does spec just have higher standards?

    1. not really says:

      @not really the spec review was authored by one girl, and bwog let its whole staff have an opinion. i’d say one is decidedly more well rounded and fair, wouldn’t you?

  • OMG says:

    @OMG John Goodwin was AMAZING! I wish my CC teacher was half as cute.

    1. Marry Me says:

      @Marry Me John Goodwin!!!

  • The spec review says:

    @The spec review Was written by a freshman who knows nothing about varsity shows. Bwog is tight–such a fun show. Entire cast was amazing

    1. yeah says:

      @yeah this review is actually really well-written, unlike that spec one…i didn’t realize all the bwog staff collaborated on the varsity show review, that’s actually really cool.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Jenny and Yonatan were AMAZING.

  • Hah says:

    @Hah give us a headquarters please – bwog > spec, even without one

  • Wow says:

    @Wow David Offit was incredible. Loved his voice in the Milano song

    1. You says:

      @You speak the truth.

  • Step up from last year says:

    @Step up from last year But let’s not get our panties in a bunch. It was fairly decent, but jesus, guys, lay off the Bnard administration bullshit–the majority of CU undergrads don’t care and don’t know enough about it to find it funny.

    1. Surfin' UWS says:

      @Surfin' UWS That was a bit of an esoteric premise (more or less modeled on ABC’s “Greek” TV show) but it worked well-enough in setting up the plots.

      I’d give it a 7/10 on its on and an 8.5/10 after last year’s (which was just goddamn unpleasant)

  • Yeah says:

    @Yeah Good review! The show was funny, charming, and so true to life here at Columbia. I think it did a great job of pointing out funny little quirks about our school that all of us know, love, and hate, which is what the Vshow is all about. Nice job everyone!

  • yeah says:

    @yeah i didnt even know who Dean Denberg was so I was lost all show…

    1. I don't think says:

      @I don't think you need to know who Dean Denberg is to get the joke. I didn’t either, but it’s just a character, not a portrayal of a real person…

      1. CC student says:

        @CC student Are you joking? Dean Denburg is the dean of Barnard, responsible for next year’s mandatory meal plan for all students (including upperclassmen).

        Granted, some parts of the characterization of her were dead-on, whereas others were completely made-up, but people should still have an idea of what’s going on across Broadway…

  • Honestly says:

    @Honestly I didn’t think the show was very good. The entire cast is very talented, but the writing was pretty bad. After seeing four of these shows, you can see the hackneyed Columbia insider jokes coming from a mile away. Both the context and the relaying of the jokes were very unoriginal, and the subplots were so disjointed. The food cart throw-in and the Barnard Bear story were pretty awful. It made the show boring and predictably cheesy. Furthermore, in true varsity Show tradition, the story line was weak toward the end, causing much of the audience around me to lose interest. However, the two leads saved the show from a total disaster, and the charm and talent of the cast carried the show, effectively lifting this viewer’s judgement from a 5 to a 6.5 out of 10.

    Lastly, kudos to the musicians and choreographers. They helped make up for the mediocre writing.

    1. the music/choreography was great, but says:

      @the music/choreography was great, but i don’t agree! completely true that the barnard bear plot would have been cute as a one-liner but couldn’t carry the show, but i thought the jokes were great and made for a very cohesive show. kudos to the varsity show crew this year, they did an excellent job

    2. Really? says:

      @Really? You liked the choreography? There were a few inventive bits (the Esther Williams-esque bits in the number with all the boys playing Barnard girls), but most of it was just a series of bland poses. Also, someone should have told the creative team that not every song needs to be choreographed–why were the two students and the teacher dancing in their song about getting the senior laid? It was just awkward and unnecessary. Overall, the choreography was what, in my opinion, brought the show down. That and Spencer Oberman’s totally flat performance as Dean Denberg. That character stayed on one level the entire 2 hours.

      1. I completely disagree says:

        @I completely disagree That number was my favorite in the show! – and SPENCER OBERMAN IS FANTASTIC

  • Barnard Student says:

    @Barnard Student I thought that the Barnard Bear storyline was funny and showed the way in which forced community building really makes BC a place I resent being. It was also nice that they found a way to incorporate Barnard without resorting to the same slutty stereotypes that are always used.

  • alum says:

    @alum My favorite v-show was two years ago – hunger strike, ahmadinejad, etc. I still remember the awesome songs (strong beautiful…), but I can’t remember a single song from the show I just saw tonight!

    Do they sell DVDs?

    1. Naina says:

      @Naina agreed! that show was amazing, i wish I could get a soundtrack

  • the barnard says:

    @the barnard plot was a snooze fest. Most of the people didn’t get it or didn’t care, you cant carry the entire show with that plot. that said, the performances were great, the actors were charming and funny, and the band rocked it this year. So while I didn’t particularly like the story or the subplots, the actors were good and the music was great.

  • Whoa says:

    @Whoa …wait seriously? No KCST review at all? What the hell?

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Seconding this. Booo bwog.

    2. Forum Warrior says:

      @Forum Warrior I didn’t think the show was very good. The entire cast is very talented, but the writing was pretty bad. After seeing four of these shows, you can see the hackneyed Elizabethan insider jokes coming from a mile away. Both the context and the relaying of the jokes were very unoriginal, and the subplots were so disjointed. The nun throw-in and the pregnancy story were pretty awful. It made the show boring and predictably cheesy. Furthermore, in true Shakespearean tradition, the story line was weak toward the end, causing much of the audience around me to lose interest. However, the two leads saved the show from a total disaster, and the charm and talent of the cast carried the show, effectively lifting this viewer’s judgement from a 5 to a 6.5 out of 10.

      1. ha! says:

        @ha! that was brilliant. well played sir!

      2. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous lol. Very nice.

        Still, fail on the lack of KCST review, bwog.

        Also, Vshow team: great job. I really enjoyed it, and I got the Denberg plot without knowing of her beyond vaguely associating her with the meal plan thing, and certainly I don’t know anything about her personality, so that, to me, worked fine. And even if it was a little thin, you got some great jokes in there. Special props to Alex Hare; the gregorian chant bit was, to me, the best joke in the show (except perhaps the lawn flag one). But the whole cast was excellent; everyone, even the non-principals, definitely had a great moment or two (or five). Also, the songs were wonderful. If anything, I wanted more of them.

        Captcha: Griffen it. (to celebrate Wizarding Independence Day?)

  • Anon says:

    @Anon The Barnard subplot….I feel like it was just SO absurd and over-the-top, thus it didn’t work as a major element of the show. I was sad to see Alex Hare’s Shollenberger cut; it was my favorite part of the preview, and it seemed like however they were going would have been a bit less crazy. Sam was a great character though; Alex’s talents were well displayed.

    Also, I wish they had left in the preview’s “protective womb of The Diana” line. I don’t remember hearing a single Vag joke in the show.

  • Just saw it says:

    @Just saw it Awesome Show, Agree with the majority of the criticism but really I had so much fun and that’s all that matters for a Varsity Show. I was laughing pretty much the whole show, and while the writing wasn’t exactly stellar, the cast did such a wonderful job with the characters and what they were given that it’s totally easy to overlook, plus the concepts for a lot of the jokes and characters were spot on satire.

    Killer Music, the band was rocking out the whole show and the lyrics had some bomb jokes.

    Special love goes out to Yoni, Alex, John and Jenny for fucking killing it. Great Varsity Show, all involved should be super proud.

    Definitely worth 2 hours and $10. I’m still smiling like an idiot.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous But actually–where’s the KCST review?

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Bwog, seriously-major fail on the KCST review.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous wow, normally i don’t read bwog. But this article was spot on and caught my attention. Maybe you guys should collaborate on more articles.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Pat Blute’s legs looked amazing.

  • PETER LABUZA says:

    @PETER LABUZA IS MY HERO

  • ummm says:

    @ummm less barnard and more SEAS jokes next time please!!! also, more hipster jokes next time, they are taking over the university!! Aaannnnddddd more jokes about butler culture!!!

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Fewer.

  • enjoyed myself but... says:

    @enjoyed myself but... WAY TOO MUCH BARNARD PLOT! Would it have killed you guys to have one female character who wasn’t a Barnard student or faculty member? At least 50% of the show was heavily Barnard oriented and as a female senior in CC, I couldn’t relate to any of it.

  • agreed says:

    @agreed the barnard jokes were super lame. the point of the varsity show is to be funny in a way that includes everyone, and most people i spoke to just didnt get the whole barnard thing. a lot of the characters were just portrayed too over the top and came across seeming like they were 10 years old. best part of the show: the set and the acting. otherwise: barely worth a chuckle.

    1. definitely agreed says:

      @definitely agreed watching it, i felt like columbia was the boy’s school and barnard was for girls. i think every school deserves a nod, but i definitely felt left out.

  • Hillary Kritt says:

    @Hillary Kritt is SO sexy

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous really?

  • Hooah says:

    @Hooah Very good show, very apt review. Thank you VShow and Bwog for keeping me entertained!

  • Sound says:

    @Sound For a $20,000+ budget, they could have at least gotten decent sound. I could only hear around 1 out of every 4 sentences in the songs and left at intermission…

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous try $100,000+

  • credit where it's due says:

    @credit where it's due Why is no one talking about the sets? The set design was fantastic!

    Denburg’s curtains? Amazing!

    (CAPTCHA: finished packets )

  • wow says:

    @wow i went in to vshow expecting to hate it, so maybe i’m biased because my expectations were so low…but i loved it! i thought it was adorable, even the more boring parts were earnest and sweet. it was nice to remember we can laugh at ourselves and love this place anyway, despite the kind of overwhelming negativity that’s going on most of the time. well done, vshow, seriously!
    also, holy shit, john goodwin stole the show. i walked out of there in love!

  • COOP says:

    @COOP i enjoyed that somebody finally addressed the cultlike oddity that is COOP

    1. COÖP..... says:

      @COÖP..... COOOOOOOOOOOOÖP!!

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous COOOOOP!!!!!

        1. COÖP says:

          @COÖP died laughing

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I have had so many of john goodwin’s babies. they are all talented and dreamy.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous man,
    who cares about barnard… they aint supposed to be the “big thing” on the show

    1. OK, but says:

      @OK, but please notice that 4 of the 6 girls in the show go to Barnard, including Jenny Vallancourt. You can’t just use their talent and then exclude their school from the show.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous good point.

  • i love you says:

    @i love you YONATAN!!!! killer acting, you made the show stellar!

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I could listen to Jenny Vallancourt sing the dictionary.

    1. I would love says:

      @I would love I listen to Jenny Vallancourt sing the dictionary. Sooooooooo good!

  • Bwog says:

    @Bwog Not one mention of Patrick McGuire? He wrote an awesome show, so many quality jokes.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I would love to go on a date with whoever played Emma. She was so cute.

    1. Forum Warrior says:

      @Forum Warrior Jenny Vallancourt is an amazing person in real life as well.

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous and she’s single

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous I would ask her on a date if I ever saw her around campus!

        How does anonymous know she’s single?

  • President & Founder of Alex Hare Fan Club says:

    @President & Founder of Alex Hare Fan Club ALEX HARE IS FLAWLESS

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous can i join?!

      Alex Hare Fan Club, est. after XMAS.

  • C'MON BWOG says:

    @C'MON BWOG Measure for measure review??? WHERE IS IT?? This is so sad. They put sooo much effort into it and had a big crowd too.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous I was pissed too… but apparently they have a good reason, soo… someone should write a review and send it into bwog, or just post it somewhere.

      Also, bwog, every time I try to post, I’m getting a “you are posting comments too quickly” message, when its my first post in a day or so. What’s up?

      1. I says:

        @I am all for this. Bwog is written by students, not random people who are paid to report. I’m sure there’s a good reason why they didn’t review the show, so maybe people should stop whining and send in their own reviews. It would really be no different than one of their staff doing it.

        1. Anonymous says:

          @Anonymous If by good reason you mean that the reviewers they assigned all managed to forget to go to the show, then yes, I guess that is a “good” reason. Really attests to the quality of Bwog’s staffing.

    2. seriously says:

      @seriously way to slack off bwog. kcst review?

  • the band says:

    @the band the band was pretty good, but i really wanted to tell the pianist to stop trying to improvise when they “jammed” on certain numbers…he was just not that good.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous drums were too loud sometimes when there was dialogue.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Alex Hare reminds me of a young Matthew Broderick. He owns the stage, and I expect to be seeing him on Broadway before long. And the Gregorian Chant should be a show by itself!

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