Arts and Entertainment | Theater

V120 ‘Morningside Nights’ a sincere, witty take on Columbia University

  • Andrew Shimm / Senior Staff Photographer
    40s on 40 | Left to right: Alex Donnelly, CC ’14, Ellie Beckman, CC ’16, Matt Soto, CC ’16, Kyle Marshall, CC ’17, Emma Grueskin, BC ’17, Lindsay Garber, BC ’16, Sam Balzac, CC ’17, Brittany Searles, BC ’17, Michael Carter, CC ’14, Brittany Beljak, BC ’16, and Lacey Bookspan, BC ’17, perform as part of the ensemble of the 120th Varsity Show.
  • Andrew Shimm / Senior Staff Photographer
    taste the signs | Sam Balzac CC ’17, left, and Lindsay Garber, BC ’16, star as Evan and Lucy in the 120th Varsity Show, “Morningside Nights.”

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). 

Andrew Shimm
war on fun | Kyle Marshall, CC ’17, left, Sean Walsh, CC ’14, and Sam Balzac, CC ’17 star in the 120th Varsity Show, “Morningside Nights."

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. | @ColumbiaSpec

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Lindsay Garber’s school. She is BC ’16. Spectator regrets the error. 


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cc14 posted on

The song at the end of the first act was THE MOST EPIC THING IVE EVER HEARD. also that choreography -- the dancing prezbos. THE DANCING PREZBOS. great job lauren

v120, you've outdone yourself

cdm posted on

This will sound incredibly douchey since it's a long, worked-over comment, and you had a nice review, but what I feel is lacking that I'd like to add is that I thought as well put-on this production was, the most important part was one of vshow's oldest traditions--the willingness to be frank about the status student life on campus. Our shared frustrations and pride are one of the few things that bring us together at a sometimes alarmingly alienating school, and that's what I felt last night with every big laugh over some idiosyncratic feature of the university (like holy shit, we can have in-jokes here?). All the references to an uncaring god (um, prezbo) was delivered in the form of a one-liner, yes, but the notes were hit so heavy and so hard that you could feel the anger behind them. There was one moment in particular that dropped the pretense of caring about the balance of joke to actual statement: the line about Prezbo sweeping sexual misconduct under the rug. People didn't laugh; they cheered. For a split second, I wondered if there would be a standing ovation. If the play weren't so keenly funny, this maybe wouldn't have worked, but as a whole the show managed to be an expressive vehicle for more than just a few cute laughs about Team Rocket: It was a powerful reminder that striving to make Columbia a better place in general, may just be the glue holding the student body together regardless of individual opinions.

Obligatory activism aside, the spectre of our fearless, fun-running leader hung over the proceedings with a stubborn insistence on not quite being there, but not being forgotten either. When people look back at this VShow (as many future V teams are bound to do), they'll doubtlessly notice all the normal romantic and 'finding yourself' plotlines, but the biggest historical takeaway will be the sharp contrast between administrators: DSpar's benevolent, zumba office hour powerhour-holding Wonder Woman, versus the disembodied Bollinger, whose back may rise like the hump like the mighty dome of Low, but never gets an ounce of stagetime (or love from anyone but his desperate, neglected nephew). And hey, maybe that nephew is all of us. At the very least because this tradition is such an integral barometer of the undergrad population, one wishes PrezBo would come down from his tower to watch.

Yes, but posted on

Ironically, I tend to view the situation the opposite way. I think Bollinger is invested, and cares far more about Columbia than Spar does about Barnard.

There's no doubt he's aloof (and I think part of his job requires it—he's the president of a university, not just CC), but the man teaches a class, genuinely enjoys having the fireside chats, and I think, really does give somewhat of a damn about Columbia.

I can't say the same for Spar, considering that she's rarely present (even stranger, considering she's president of one college) and overtly hostile to campus media, in general.

That said, you also can't blame a lack of timely change solely on them. Bureaucracies are multifaceted and they take an awful long time getting stuff done.

But I certainly agree—I wish Bollinger would come down to watch.