With a whopping ~$100K budget, it’s understandable that people hold such high expectations for the Vshow. The 117th iteration succeeded in tackling this year’s scandals, but failed to deliver the polished production we wanted. Clocking in at over 2 hours (plus intermission), the show strove for topicality, as it should, and handled sensitive issues tastefully and creatively. Whereas last year’s show cleanly executed a safe story, 117 confronted, if messily, the scandals head-on: ROTC, the drug bust, Epstein—it’s all in there. They packed in a lot, but unfortunately the plot collapsed under its own weight.
The first act devoted too much time to introducing the individual plots strands, and got bogged down tying them all together. So let’s run through the threads: the senator’s love story, his sister’s quest for fame, a boy enrolled at Barnard, ADP’s Four Loko operation/revolution against the War on Fun, POTC undercover policemen, and Ke$ho (more on this later.) Phew. It was an impressive feat to weave them all in, but the whole was ultimately less than the sum of its parts. The show opened with a dedication to sticking it to the Man and overturning the War on Fun, but ended incongruously with a message about being true to yourself. There was no consistent theme driving the story from beginning to end. If you turned in a paper that began with one thesis and ended with a completely unrelated one, you would get a B-. Except in Art Hum.
That said, the show never felt like a half-assed checklist of jokes. Writers Nuriel Moghavem, CC’11, and Betsy Morais, CC’11, reprised familiar fare of Barnard and GS stabs in surprisingly refreshing ways. A brilliantly executed BC joke (“But will my diploma say…”) by Jesse (Chris Silverberg, CC’13) received one of the biggest laughs of the night. Unfortunately, all of the songs written for Silverberg’s part didn’t fully showcase his rich lower register, with one notable exception: “Barnard Boy.” In this highlight of the second act, Jesse reveals to his bro-y Barnard suitemates that he is in fact a dude (identifies as a male on a daily basis). However, things got awkward when attempted jokes received zero laughs. These uncomfortable moments littered the show and detracted from its brighter spots.
Besides the Barnard Boy, we loved the innovative POTC undercover cops, played by Bob Vulfov, CC’13, and Andrew Wright, CC’14. While the Vshow usually forgets that Columbia girls exist, 117 gave us a likable one in the character of ADP Prez Julia (Naomi Roochnik, BC ‘13). With a range rivalling Kristen Chenoweth, Nora (Rebekah Lowin CC’14,) the fame-hungry freshperson, displayed serious vocal chops in another one of our favorite songs, “Campus Character.” (Through we’re pretty sure our parent magazine The Blue and White is not well-known enough for the “Campus Character” feature to be an effective plot device). Preston the Senator (Isaac Assor, CC’14—he reminded us of someone we knew, but douchier) even had his moments. While the blossoming relationship between the ADP President and Senator Preston emerged from the first act as the the main plot, it was Nora the Campus Character wannabe and Jesse the Barnard Boy who proved the most memorable protagonists. More memorable still was Dean Kevin Shollenberger, played by Sean Walsh, CC’14. Targeting admins has been a mainstay of recent Vshows, but this time, unlike in V115, it worked. Our very own KevSho turns out to be none other than pop sensation Ke$ho. Functional and funny, he tied together the plot strands towards the end of the show. This was a welcome contrast to the first act with clumsy numbers that lasted too long (“Go Undercover” and “At John Jay”), and a muddled finale. “Another Scandal,” the first act’s final number, suffered from indecipherable overlapping voices and disjointed dancing.
Still, there were a few redeeming one-liners. Some of our favorites included truisms,“It’s all a facade… like Tom’s”; “Alcohol’s the Tenth Way of Knowing”; “that school across the street that’s just for women…Teachers College”; and the revelation of “Columbia’s two biggest sex cults: COÖP and Spectator.” The audience was really into these, but we wish the writers had edited out all the other filler that fell flat for long stretches of the show. Without some tired tropes, the whole thing would have been substantially shorter. Two and half hours is a lot to ask from people, especially this weekend.
The choreography was similarly patchy, with a few sensational dancers (Alia Munsch, BC’12, Victoria Pollack, BC’12, Elizabeth Power, CC’13) and a lot of mediocre ones. Credit goes to Sarah Miller, BC’13, for making dancing such a major component of the Varsity Show, but once again, the highs were high (Ke$ha club scene and Chicago-style Tango) and the lows were low (4Loco, drunk dancing is awkward to watch on stage, especially when you’re not drunk.) Awkward technical problems riddled the performance. Mics were unbalanced, and extraneous noises came through.
Further props to set designers (pun, tee hee!) Emily Wallen, BC’11, and Rikki Feuerstein, CC’13, for livening the sets with genius details like the Bieber poster in the Bros’ room and the Lennon/ Lenin distinction in ADP. The Heights set was fabulously accurate.
117’s tunes swung from tango to techno. We applaud composers Shira Laucharoen, CC ‘12, and Eli Grober, CC ‘13, for composing a totally original score that incorporated jazz, Latin, Scat, and calypso, among other genres. Past shows have relied on generic 4-chord progressions, played on keyboard and guitar, but this year’s featured a talented 10-piece band. There was even an accordion solo!
This year’s Varsity Show was the best way to spend Friday evening, but not by much. The length really dragged down some of the most enjoyable moments, making it hard to recall points that were well-executed. The last town hall scene offered a sobering moment to reflect genuinely on the year’s tribulations. In an effective writing move, characters’ lines were pulled verbatim from Bwog comments on Operation Ivy League posts. These points grounded the show and made us consider the gravity of the year’s scandals. Still the sentiment of self-reflection in the second to last scene did not cohere with the finale’s call to “take off your disguises.” The whirling plot sapped too much of the show’s energy to bring it to a satisfying close. The thing was cumbersome and unpolished. It’s worth going for the frothier second act. If you’re willing to spend two and half hours, you’re sure to be somewhat entertained, but not fulfilled.
– The staff of Bwog and The Blue & White