The 108th Varsity Show was the main campus entertainment for undergraduates last weekend. Following the tradition of the show, this year's performance spoofed all things Columbia, and in a tentative step outside the gates, also took a look at the neighborhood of Morningside Heights, making fun of the snobby filmgoer's attitude of employees at Kim Video and the area bars.
The storyline itself was not meant to be as linear as last year's; it was instead a collection of individual situations that made fun of specific aspects of the university and its students. As a result of this formula, however, the show seemed a little uneven. Some skits, such as a spoof of the Psychology Department and a scene in which a confrontational Anjuli Kolb (CC '03) and Abby Wilson (CC '02) played badly matched roommates, did not flow well into the whole of the story. Scenes like these tended to fragment the overall performance in the viewers' minds, because many audience members were prepared for a cohesive storyline instead of a series of vignettes. For this reason, it seemed at times that the talent of the cast overwhelmed the story; the incredible singing voices and acting talents gave the performance vitality where the story itself did not.
The cast members delivered impressive individual performances that helped the show move along where the story line might have faltered a bit. Mike Barry (CC '04) and Jenny Slate (CC '04) provided great singing voices, belting out the supporting notes in the cast-wide numbers, and Lang Fisher (CC '02) was especially adept at including the audience in the jokes by glancing out into the crowd as lines were exchanged. However, the three main highlights of the show had to be Jordan Barbour's (CC '05) dramatic interpretation of the class "Physics for Poets," Gabe Liedman's (CC ë04) incredibly frustrated/asshole-ish theater major character, and Davey Volner's (CC '04) rendition of "Johnny Ubiquitous."
Jordan Barbour's character came to the stage wrapped in black and then expounded (in verse, of course) on the nature of the universe, finally instructing the audience to be sure to have the "quantum haikus on my desk" by the next class time. It was amazing that Barbour was able to keep a serious expression as every Columbia student realized that "Physics for Poets" really is the stupidest class name ever.
Gabe Liedman's skits captured several aspects of Columbia that everyone knows and hates: incredibly uptight people, the fact that the department layout here makes no sense at all, and, predictably, the very existence of Barnard. Liedman's pitching a fit, falling on his face with his feet flying up behind him, and whining all the time added an all too familiar comic element to the vignettes.
On a creepier note, Davey Volner's "Johnny Ubiquitous" was a darkly comedic criticism of the impersonality of Columbia students. As he swayed back and forth, Volner spoke in a high, dry voice about all the people at Columbia that everyone sees everyday as "them" without realizing that we are all "them" to one another. Of course, his declaration that "I am your girlfriend" was a little odd, but the aim of the character, to express the general unfriendly facades of Columbia Students, was both evident and a little uncomfortable. The strength of this character, as well as his position at the beginning and end of the performance, made the show's tone a bit darker than it was last year. However, this difference did not make the show worse than last year; it simply downplayed the slapstick and was a little more critical of Columbia attitudes.
Overall, this year's Varsity Show was, as always, worth the paltry entrance fee. The fantastic, Broadway-esque sets, the hilarious songwriting and excellent comedic timing of the cast members produced a show that was, in total, very impressive. Although many people have remarked that this year's show was not as good as last year's, I think that one must remember what is being compared in this case: it is not that people are saying that this year's show was not good, it is simply that, over a year's reflection, the positive parts of last year's show are remembered with great accuracy while the relative failures of the show are forgotten. The fate of this year's show may well be the same: that, while people criticize it right now, they will compare it favorably with next year's show. If people criticize it, they criticize it because they have such high standards for the Varsity Show. They expect to be made fun of, and they remember the ridicule with a smile.