From start to finish, the 119th Varsity Show, “The Great Netscape,” is the most fun you’ll have in Lerner—or anywhere else on campus—this year. The talented principals and ensemble, the hilarious book, and the original score—all brought together under the direction of Chris Silverberg, CC ’13—make the show a testament to the talent found at the school and a hilarious skewering of its culture.
With lines like “Go down on me like Courseworks” and a performance by a boy band formed in Wien called N’Sink In My Room, the jokes punctuate and move along the plot, without distracting from it.
The plot centers around Kat, a School of Engineering and Applied Science student played by Rebecca Farley, CC ’16. Kat built her own computer, which isolates her from her friends, Millie (Molly Heller, GS/JTS ’15), a Barnard student who is deathly scared of leaving the Morningside bubble, and Julian (Jonah Weinstein, CC ’16 and a Spectator arts and entertainment columnist), a cross country runner who spouts ’90s references and can’t figure out how to adequately express his attraction to Kat.
When the Internet goes out—a side effect of University President Lee Bollinger’s secret weather machine, which he uses to make it sunny for Days on Campus—Millie and Kat have to figure out how to fix it, lest they have to actually interact with people. Throwing a wrench into their plans is Kat’s RA, Vivica (Olivia Harris, CC ’14), who coerces people’s attendance at study breaks with the help of her rider, Dylan (Ethan Fudge, CC ’15).
The quest to find the weather machine and fix the Internet is almost stopped by Kat’s feelings of inadequacy, which she sings in “Little Fish, Big SEAS,” and the Columbia bureaucracy, which prompts the most entertaining number of the show, “The Administrative Runaround.” “Little Fish, Big SEAS” is incredibly poignant, highlighting a common concern among Columbia students—not feeling as good as your peers—while still evoking laughter. “The Administrative Runaround” tackles the absurdity of dealing with administrators with spot-on satire that’s hilarious only because it’s so accurate, from the difficulty in getting straight answers to the ennui that possesses many a Columbia desk clerk.
Other high points include Kat and Mollie’s run-in with Alice (of Go Ask Alice! fame), Solitaire-solving Public Safety officers, and the hilarious ways the characters deal with life offline. One student, played by Cole Hickman, CC ’16, takes to selling Nutella on the black market. Hickman is a standout member of the ensemble, stealing every scene he’s in, especially when he reveals his trenchcoat lined with Nutella wrappers. Another student, played by John Fisher, CC ’16, can’t figure out how people found pornography before the Internet, but Alice helps him. Fisher, like Hickman, is another bright spot in an already bright ensemble. Other standouts include Paulina Pinsky, BC ’15, and Ankeet Ball, CC ’16, who bring big laughs with every different character they play.
Farley and Heller both gave fine performances, though at times it sounded like they were shouting into their microphones and singing louder than necessary, which sometimes translated to missed notes. Harris gives probably the best performance of all the principal cast members, displaying an impressive vocal range and just enough villainous laughter to cement her character as opposed to Farley’s and Heller’s cheerful ones.
The plot sometimes got bogged down in places it didn’t need to, like the unnecessary and short-lived break between Kat and Millie in the second act. The writers, Eric Donahue, CC ’15, and Isabel Lopez, CC ’13, were smart not to dedicate too much time to the romantic subplot, focusing instead on packing the show with jokes, especially a greater-than-expected number of extra-timely ones (including a hilarious shoutout to columnist and former Spectator editorial page editor Lanbo Zhang’s column about merging Barnard and Columbia). These nicely balance out the more stale ones, specifically a reference to Robert, made infamous online for waiting by Alma Mater for a girl he met at 1020.
While many of the songs were excellent, the standouts were concentrated largely in the middle and end of the first act, with the first song, “Columbia Let’s Connect,” trying to do too much exposition work to really take off. “Or Else” would have similarly fallen flat if it weren’t for Harris’ singing. And while some songs try to do too much with plot, the music, composed by Max Druz, CC ’15, and the lyrics, by Nick Parker, CC’14, never fall short.
“The Great Netscape” comes to a satisfying conclusion, with everyone but Vivica getting what they want. Though the show packs in the comedy, it doesn’t overwhelm the main thrust of the play: that nothing on the Internet can connect you with your peers quite as well as actually spending time with them.
Correction: An earlier version of this article listed the incorrect class year for Skylar Gottlieb, BC ’16. Spectator regrets the error.