With graduation three weeks away, the 120th Varsity Show, “Morningside Nights”—running through Sunday in Roone Arledge Auditorium—gives a lively and nostalgic send-off to seniors in a show filled with animated dance numbers, on-point jokes, and well-crafted songs.
Directed by Emily Feinstein, BC ’14 , the show features a strong cast of talented actors who do justice to the entertaining and timely script by Eric Donahue and Rae Binstock, both CC ’15, and music, composed by Solomon Hoffman, CC ’14 , with lyrics by Nick Parker, CC ’14.
The students who populate Binstock and Donahue’s glossy version of Columbia are vibrant and verbose–unlike the show’s lush backdrops of Lerner Hall and Low Library, designed by Jiin Choi, CC ’14, there is nothing two-dimensional about them.
“Morningside Nights” taps into that overwhelming desire of all graduating seniors to make their mark on Columbia before receiving their diploma. For Lucy, played by Lindsay Garber, BC ’16, this means being asked to write a Senior Wisdom for Bwog and achieving the dreams of her first-year self, portrayed by Lacey Bookspan, BC ’17.
Distraught when she finds out she hasn’t made Bwog’s list of sage seniors, Lucy sets out to pull off a grandiose, legacy-making feat. She finds her cause in protesting the curfew imposed by University President Lee Bollinger’s nephew, Alistair (brilliantly played three-time V-Show alum Sean Walsh, CC ’14), who masquerades as his uncle in the hopes of restoring Columbia to its former (read: white male) glory by cutting down on the late-night revelry he despises.
Lucy’s friend and love interest Evan (Sam Balzac, CC ’17) is drawn into Alistair’s scheme with the promise of admission to law school, setting up a tension between him and Lucy.
Despite a few fumbled lines on opening night, the cast of “Morningside Nights” is in top form. From his first scene, Walsh’s turn as the conniving Alistair is a delight to watch. Between his dramatic gait and his punctilious diction—his delectably pompous pronunciation of 1020 as “one thousand and twenty” is drawn out, molasses-slow—he is exactly the type of character that you love to hate, an elitist cartoon villain. Walsh is complemented by Alistair’s doting sidekick, Chip (played with innocence and verve by Kyle Marshall, CC ’17).
As Evan, Lucy’s adorkable, studious love interest, Balzac is endearing, even when he betrays his friends and quarrels with his overbearing, self-absorbed girlfriend Helen (Emma Grueskin, BC ’17). Not only does Balzac bring the lovelorn Evan to life with timorous cadence and ungraceful, ostrich-like carriage, he’s at his best when he’s onstage with Garber, tentatively professing his feelings for her.
Although Garber’s portrayal of Lucy is earnest and ebullient, Ellie Beckman, CC ’16, steals every scene she’s in as Barnard President Debora Spar and at times outshines Garber. Beckman’s energy and outfit make the character work, helped along by her quick-witted delivery of lines about Barnard’s paltry endowment and her immortality, make for an uncanny, entertaining performance.
References, both Columbia-related and not, are evenly dispersed throughout the show, and the writers resist falling into the common traps of either throwing them away without care or relying too heavily on campus news for the plot. Subtle allusions to “Pokémon” and “High School Musical” reinforce the fact that the Varsity Show is, first and foremost, a student-written and -produced show, held together with references that everyone in the audience can latch onto. Additionally, “Morningside Nights” is unafraid to “go there,” criticizing the administration for a perceived inaction on sexual assault.
“Shafted” is one of several strong pieces that Hoffman and Parker create for the show. While some songs are less memorable than others, the ones that stand out are especially well-done. “Tasting the Signs” sees Garber and Balzac expressing their feelings for each other by describing their HamDel sandwiches, each imploring the other to find the “sub-text.”
The song that closes the show, “Senior Wisdom,” manages to embody the spirit of the whole tradition of the Varsity Show, and this installment in particular—it’s poignant and a little shmaltzy, but never insincere—and it’s damn funny. The cast and creative team behind “Morningside Nights” has set the bar high for V121.
The 120th Varsity Show, “Morningside Nights,” runs through Sunday with performances Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $7 for general admission and $10 for priority seating with a CUID.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Lindsay Garber’s school. She is BC ’16. Spectator regrets the error.