EIC Betsy Ladyzhets and Sports Editor Abby Rubel were gracefully invited to see the 124th Varsity Show’s annual West End Preview last night in the Diana Event Oval, filling in for Bwog’s Arts Editor (who had rehearsal). They had hopes that this year’s production would be stronger than Varsity Shows past, but so far are not particularly impressed.
Last night, Varsity Show put on the West End Preview, their annual teaser for the final production (in this case, V124). These teasers are designed to give viewers a preview of the best songs, characters, and jokes in the show, leaving us wanting more. Unfortunately, this preview left us wanting less.
The plot, from what we saw, revolves around CCSC elections. The protagonist, Julie, is struggling to choose whether to run with Graham, a COÖP leader, or Chelsea, a DG sister. Julie’s motivations for running are unclear. Nor is it obvious why everyone else is so desperate to have her, or why she’s friends with either of the highly unpleasant, self-absorbed co-leads. (We might have been less confused if we could understand anything the actors were saying.)
In the first song, two groups of students, each wearing their own matching T-shirts, sit in circles on the stage. We originally thought this was NSOP, but when Julie (Sophia Houdaigui, BC ’21) starts to talk about the challenges of being a second-semester freshman, it becomes clear we’re seeing a different outdoor picnic. (Surf ‘n’ Turf? We weren’t entirely sure.) She has a decision to make about her next couple of semesters at Columbia—a decision she prolongs with a song about how all her friendships have grown since the beginning of the year. Houdaigui has a strong voice, and the arrangement was passable, but it would have been much more powerful if we’d had a clear idea of what she was singing about. Although context will hopefully ease this issue in the final version of the show, it seems that a lack of clarity has carried over to this year’s production from previous Varsity Shows.
It wasn’t until the second number that either of us cracked a smile. This was thanks to Graham (Talmage Wise, CC ’18), whose excellent comedic timing, plus a joke about a broken John Jay couch, had us finally laughing. In the scene, Graham uses a sunset hike as an opportunity to pitch his campaign to Julie. The choreography involves Wise repeatedly spinning or lifting Houdaigui off the stage, then comedically dropping her. We’re unsure if this is a metaphor for how Graham doesn’t care about Julie beyond her political value, or for the dashing of our hopes that V124 might just be better than previous Varsity Shows.
Both of the first two scenes called out Columbia’s sororities for being “privileged white girl cults” clad in “matching T-shirts.” (This line was delivered—quelle ironie!—by the COÖP leader in the matching T-shirt.) These stereotypes come to life in the third scene, a group number in the aftermath of DG’s annual fundraiser, Anchorsplash: all of the girls on stage, especially Chelsea (Genevieve Joers, CC’20), speak in squeaky, high-pitched voices, do the DG anchor gesture every thirty seconds, and seem to have no personality outside of their sorority. Chelsea flatters and badgers Julie until she finally declares, “I’m with her!” Struggling to recover from the cringe factor of this line, it took us a few seconds to notice that Chelsea’s claptrap had done the trick: Julie decides to join her campaign.
The cast then launches into a song extolling Chelsea’s virtue as a candidate. Her platform seems to consist of previously failed CCSC ventures, like eliminating stress culture in one fell swoop, and a fall Bacchanal (or “Baccha-fall”—one of the worst portmanteaus ever). Julie promises to make Columbia “feel like home.” The dance break highlights Houdaigui’s ability to do a flip, and a truly exhausting amount of jazz hands.
Overall, this year’s West End Preview was over-enthusiastic and not particularly intriguing. One is forced to wonder if, after 124 years, the creative minds behind the Varsity Show are running out of Columbia-relevant plotlines. Contentious student council elections are a staple narrative of your typical high school movie or TV show, and the sisters wouldn’t have looked out of place at any sorority event in the country. With everything that’s happened at Columbia in the past school year, a show making the same tired jokes about student government and Greek life seemed, frankly, boring. The one aspect of the show that might have redeemed such a drippy plot—the characters themselves—were flat at best, and annoying at worst.
These two writers will probably, as the V124 cast suggested in their closing number, see the full show in April. But we aren’t particularly looking forward to it.
Photo via the V Show Facebook page