In the 115th Annual Varsity Show, titled The Gates of Wrath, the minor characters didn’t just steal the show—they were the show.
This year, the creative team decided to rename the traditional “cast” and “chorus” as “principals” and “ensemble.” It was a smart move—the title of “chorus” doesn’t do justice to the talent of the students who landed supporting roles.
This year’s Varsity Show featured intertwining love stories involving a motley cast of characters: a homework-laden SEAS student, a failed investment banker, a first-year wanting nothing more than to go to NYU, and a GS student who no one seems to acknowledge is only 21 years old. Their stories were set against the backdrop of Columbia College Dean Austin Quigley’s master plan to trap the entire student body inside the University gates in order to reign over them as king.
Yet while the aforementioned characters were entertaining enough, they were not able to carry the show alone. The lead actors were at worst, passable and at best, magnetic (especially Giselle Gastell, CC ’09, as the SEAS first-year with Broadway dreams), but the biggest laughs often went to the actors without solo numbers and romantic plot lines.
One standout performer was Yonatan Gebeyehu, CC ’11, whose no-holds-barred comedic style inspired many rounds of applause from the audience. His interpretations of the notorious Hallelujah Man, University President Lee Bollinger, party enthusiast Stephan Vincenzo, CC ’12, and a first-year screaming about the inconvenience of his meal plan were all spot-on.
Other juicy ensemble bits included an emo creative writing major brought to life by John Goodwin, CC ’12, and a Bwog commenter with a bad sense of humor played by Connor Spahn, CC ’12.
The four female ensemble members (Morgan Fletcher, CC ’12, Nicole Lopez, CC ’12, Jill Schackner, BC ’11, and Emily Wallen, BC ’11) proved the strength of their Broadway belts with not-frequent-enough solos. If it hadn’t been for the unreliable sound system that rendered many of their lines unintelligible, their collective vocal skills could have outshined that of any principal actor.
Sound glitches notwithstanding, however, the technical aspects of the show were quite successful. The set was impressive, and at times played a central role in the action. At the end of the show, the cast opened the mechanized campus gate with a giant VingCard key—truly a stroke of creative genius.
But the writing and music were not as inspired as the set design. Certain elements, like the requisite stereotyping of the University’s local “rival” (Boy: “I’m transferring to NYU.” Girl: “You’re gay?!”) and the ever-popular commentary on Cornell’s isolated location, were predictable, but still managed to yield expected laughs. In addition, Gabrielle—Gastell’s brainy science student who has a secret passion for singing—seemed to be mysteriously drawn right out of High School Musical.
The most creative element of the plot was the maniacal portrayal of Quigley by principal Patrick Blute, CC ’12. Blute turned Quigley from a well-mannered Brit into a power-hungry, CU Assassins-loving beast perched on a comically large throne. Quigley himself was in the audience at Saturday night’s sold-out performance, and said of his doppelgänger, “I think I’ll let other people judge its accuracy, but I find it very funny—anything but offensive.”
V115’s three-hours-plus running time, however, sent some audience members darting out the door after the first act. The length of the show might not have been a problem had every moment been captivating, but some scenes lagged and there were songs that seemed to drag on for no reason.
An anthem in the vein of last year’s power-ballad “Strong, Beautiful” might have given V115 the necessary lift, but alas, the audience was left instead with the bizarre love song “Please, Don’t Go”, as well as more than one superfluous tap dance break.
V115 faced the daunting challenge of following last year’s much-lauded production. And though the show may not have exceeded the high expectations established by V114, it boasted a universally talented cast and even a few singularly memorable characters who just might keep “Hallelujah!” running through our minds until this time next year.