The cast and crew of the 126th Annual Varsity Show hosted the West End Preview for an intimate audience in the Glicker-Milstein Theatre. This year, it was all about Bacchanal.
Columbia’s Varsity Show is an age-old tradition that seeks to capture the Columbia student experience in a satirical musical that is written, directed, and performed by students. The West End Preview provides a 30-minute glimpse into the year’s production. Though deemed a “preview” of the May performance, the sneak peek’s plot and musical scores often deviate from the final Varsity Show in an effort to keep the plot a secret.
On Wednesday night, the preview introduced the creative efforts made by the team’s composers, lyricists, cast, and crew, according to director Sophia Houdaigui, BC ’21. She went on to emphasize the creative team’s push for inclusivity in the show, not only among the cast and crew, but also with regard to its connection to the general student body.
“I want every single person to be able to see this Varsity Show and see themselves represented or their club represented, or an issue that they feel really deeply about represented,” Houdaigui said.
This year's cast and crew is composed of over 100 students. Co-producer Nakiri Gallagher-Cave, CC ’21, commented on the nature of this year’s group in the context of broader trends in theater, which includes more diversity of talent and experience.
“I think this may be a trend in theater in general, but I think we’re moving away from the classical musical theater actor who has the Julie Andrews voice and can do jazz squares and everything,” Gallagher-Cave said. “We have a cool range of people … people who have years and years of training in acting and dancing, and people who are getting into it and learning as they go.”
Co-producer Antara Agarwal, CC ’20, also noted the importance of the large number of first-year students in the cast this year, particularly given the excitement and energy they bring to the group.
“They bring, I think, a kind of energy that a lot of upperclassmen may [lack]. … Maybe we’ve been here, we’re kind of a little jaded. … At the end of the day, that’s what the Varsity Show is. It’s kind of a love letter to Columbia,” Agarwal said. “I think having a lot of first-years in our cast makes that feel very real for all of us.”
This year, the preview followed two aspiring documentarians, played by Ethan Woo, CC ’20, and Samantha Seiff, CC ’22, who sought to investigate Bacchanal’s move to Terminal 5. The first stop in their scavenger hunt was a student group that sang of “eating the rich,” citing “neoliberalism” as the reason for Bacchanal’s relocation.
In a twist of events, one of the members of the student group revealed that he was the secretary of the Bacchanal committee. He then directed the eager filmmakers to Butler’s infamous stacks, where they found a discontented security guard announcing the stacks’ closing and the chair of the Bacchanal committee, played by Jackie Chu, BC ’22, singing about her dreams to become a “self-made millionaire.”
The last stop was Mr. Billy Bob Bacchanal’s Faculty House, where the documentarians were met by Mr. Bacchanal’s son, played by Erik Larsson, CC ’23. An elderly man, he sang of his desire to please his deceased father, who founded the Bacchanal tradition. A series of dance numbers featuring melodic ballroom dances and rhythmic hip hop followed Mr. Billy Bob Bacchanal’s reminiscing of older, better Columbia days that were Bacchanal-free.
“I think this year we're trying to do something very different in the kind of story we're putting on stage. We wanted something that was a little more grounded and that reflected what a lot of what the Columbia student body actually goes through,” Agarwal said.
In an effort to achieve this goal, this year’s creative team conducted a series of interviews and surveys from student groups “to see what the Columbia they see is,” and how their stories could be united through common threads, according to Gallagher-Cave.