Columbia has few traditions, but the most recognizable is by far is the yearly spoof affectionately called the Varsity Show. I was lucky enough to catch the sneak preview this past weekend, labeled "The Rough Cut," performed in the Black Box Theater to an intimate crowd. This smaller and more personal look at the larger work, which raises its curtain Friday night, was a great way to spend a Saturday night, watching Columbia's funniest people do what they know best.
This performance was indeed a rough cut, and was by no means perfect, but that's really what the preview is all about: to gauge what works and what doesn't, what the audience laughs at, and what will get cut in the next couple of days.
"The final product shown to the audience is a solid piece of work," said producer Paul Gelinas, CC '03. "But that doesn't mean that it is a set script all the while way through. Lots of things are cut and added before the final show."
Famous for poking fun at what's wrong with Columbia and its eccentric students, this years show is equipped with a blatantly homosexual football team, a semi-psychotic/mostly-neurotic incoming first-year, and the usual slew of Barnard jokes.
Of course, some things are bound to get cut. An entire song devoted to the pompous nature of Columbia and our self-proclaimed aptitude and greatness has not made the final cut--it was more frighteningly true than funny, and didn't receive the expected amount of laughs.
The show's greatest weakness lies in the lack of continuity, especially when compared to last year's show. The 2002 V-Show has opted to instead produce a short number of skits, with roughly only half of the cast playing characters that make returns throughout the show. However, this weakness is counteracted by a fabulous casting job, and a real knowledge of the cast's strengths and weaknesses. Mike Barry, CC '04, is often showcased in the vocally challenging numbers to take advantage of his amazing voice; Lang Fisher, CC '03, has a phenomenal sense of comic timing, which becomes the focus of her scenes; and Gabe Liedman, CC '04, has a knack for physical acting, and you can't help but laugh at his pain.
One thing that came through quite clearly was the close-knit nature of the cast. While not every joke got a laugh, and not every musical number was received well, nothing could not stop the energy and the excitement with which the cast performed.
Unique to the Varsity Show is the way a scene that might flopand cause a loss of momentum in "normal" theater can still succeed. The V-Show cast never allows the loss of momentum, by morphing from one character to the next, regardless whether the scene is a success or failure. This aspect of the show is something welcomed by director Will Graham, CC '02. "Sometimes it's sort of like running a zoo or a loonie bin," stated Graham. " But it's also incredibly fun and rewarding as a director."
A particularly tough job was given to choreographer Carolyn O'Hara, CC '02--to choreograph dance moves for non-dancers. O'Hara was able to make the numbers look clean and entertaining, avoiding technically difficult steps and focusing on more expressive gestures.
A fourteenth cast member, a live chicken, performed in the rough cut with the regular cast. I for one will be greatly disappointed if the young chicken-actor doesn't make it to the show. And if it doesn't, we'll have no one to blame but Lerner Hall and the ASPCA. But small setbacks won't keep this cast down. I mean, they have been doing this for 108 years ...