The main difference between a cult and Frosh Revue is that most cults are secretive and hidden – their membership is unknown, their ways are shrouded in mystery and they rarely appear publicly together. These criteria are obviously flagrantly defied by the loud, proud, hysterical members of the most exclusive theater group on campus, the Frosh Revue. Once called “The Freshman Review” and boasting such former members as Tony award-winning Stephen Sondheim ’50 and William Finn ’74, the annually replenishing group has a simple premise: each year, 10 first-years work together to produce a sketch comedy show about freshmen life that is presented to the campus and community on Family Days. The product of this irreverent, uninhibited comic think-tank? Utter hilarity.
This year’s show, cheekily entitled Mount Froshmore, met and surpassed the expectations regularly set by this random and hilarious group. The cast – Amy Darling ’12, Jonathan Draxton ’12, Anna Heffernan ’12, Greg Kaskan ’12, Margy Love ’12, Eric Outterson ’12, David Phillips ’12, Emily Schwab ’12, William Su ’12 and Michelle Rodriguez ’12 – shone under the direction of 2007 cast members Caroline Chiappetti ’11, Chris Fox ’11, Maddie Jacobs ’11 and Andrew Dominitz ’11. Over the past two months, the group collaborated to write and choreograph the skits and songs in the show through a series of improvisation exercises.
The audition process is highly competitive, and dozens of students vie for the coveted 10 spots. “The audition was perhaps the most rigorous process I’ve ever gone through,” Schwab said. “First I had to beat Maddie Jacobs in an arm wrestling contest and then I had to bench press the Dom [Andrew Dominitz].” She was probably joking, but with the crazy cast of characters in Frosh Revue, there’s no way to be sure.
“It was different for everyone,” Darling claimed. “They made me watch a clip of a dog slowly drowning in a bathtub, then asked me how I felt about it.”
Kaskan’s description of the rehearsal process is equally unreliable. “Every week we would have a guest director judge us,” Kaskan said. “One week our guest judge was a popular British singer … And he attacked me. James Blunt gave me rabies. I had to have 10 excruciatingly painful shots injected into my belly,” he alleged. “But it was all part of the learning experience.”
“We were only whipped occasionally, and that’s just because Chris Fox is a little enthusiastic,” Schwab said. “But it was all worth it to be a part of the fabulous experience that was Frosh Revue.” Darling’s reports were just as mysterious. “Contrary to common belief, animals were hurt in the process of creating our show,” she said.
As you might expect from the tongue-in-cheek nature of their responses, funny doesn’t begin to describe the outcome of the groups’ teamwork. Traditionally, Frosh Revue performances are a combination of sketches and song parodies that surround themes of acclimating to the college environment, including Williams-specific inside jokes – shout-outs to Snack Bar, entry incest and Security Patrol Supervisor Chuck Roberts are Frosh Revue staples – as well as more accessible commentary on general freshman year awkwardness that eager visiting parents can relate to, or at least pretend to understand.
Many of this year’s sketches were parodies of pop culture or specific genres – “Sesame Days” had cast members portraying Sesame Street characters helping hilarious Su through the trials of First Days, “Frosh Quaddyssey” spoofed Homer’s The Odyssey, following Phillips’ quest as “Doddyseus” to make it back to campus after being separated from his WOOLF group.
One of the highlights of the annual performances is Weird Al Yankovic-style song parodies, where the lyrics to popular songs are replaced with the Revue’s signature witticisms on College-specific topics. This year’s show boasted “See Who Gets In,” a song about the stresses of the admissions process set to Miley Cyrus’s “See You Again,” as well as “Boys and Girls,” which revealed the tribulations of entry incest using the Aqua classic “Barbie Girl.” Clever lyrics and hilarious dance moves drew audiences in to the group’s infectious enthusiasm and talent, particularly evident in this year’s production.
The skit “First Days in the Room with Steve” was a combination of both sketch and song parody. Schwab played a first-year student who is assigned Sondheim as her roommate, brilliantly played by Rodriguez, who crooned such songs as “The Worst Pies in Williams” about the fare served by the ’82 Grill in her desire to fit in.
Why is Frosh Revue such a phenomenon? Each skit thrives upon the strength of witty writing – “Paresky Lawn is judging me/and my extra blondie” sings the cast in “Mr. Brightside” parody “Just a Freshman” – and the individual performances themselves. Myriad convincing accents and impressions filled the show. Kaskan was a particular stand-out, appearing as a Frenchman in “A Tour de France,” a hillbilly in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Schow” and as a spot-on Al Pacino in “Grey Lockdown.”
The entire cast was surprisingly well-rounded, clearly showing the directors’ excellent casting decisions in forming such a versatile group of multitalented singers, dancers and actors. Each cast member had shining moments – Darling’s Sarah Palin-esque prospective JA, Schwab’s overprotective parent, Heffernan’s “security fairy” Mittens, Outterson’s neurotic OIT Daily Messages author, Draxton’s gangster Marko Hopko and Love’s French tour guide are just a few of the other extremely memorable characters that graced the stage in the show’s nine skits and four songs.
While overall the production was undeniably a hit, it wasn’t without its lagging moments – some jokes fell flat with the audience of out-of-the-loop parents and siblings, and curious references to events before the first-years’ time popped up in the show – “Odd Quad Squad” was an entire skit devoted to the legendary destruction of the floor in Goodrich Hall during the GÃƒÂ¼nther concert in 2007, far before the arrival of this year’s freshman class. Skits sometimes dragged towards their conclusions, but it’s hard to blame the group for not being able to self-edit some of the moments that probably didn’t translate as well as expected from preliminary rehearsals into a non-stop hour-long performance.
All in all, it’s difficult to be anything but impressed by the work of the cast and directors – the ability to produce such a high-energy, hilarious and inventive show in such a short period of time and then perform it four times for sold-out houses in a whirlwind weekend is definitely remarkable.
While the audiences certainly take something out of the performances, the cast members benefit as well. “There are no words to describe this institution,” Draxton said. “Ã¢â‚¬ËœAwesomestthingever’ is not even a word, but if it were, it would be perfect.”
The experience is uniquely immersive, and the friendships and bonds that come out of it are unmatched. “Getting to know 13 people so well this early in freshmen year is definitely a unique experience,” Phillips said. “By the time September ends you already feel like a part of a team or unit.” Schwab added, “Frosh Revue is a family, which is a wonderful thing to find in your first semester of college.”
What happens when the Frosh Revue cast and alumni are questioned about the group’s unarguably legendary “cult” status? Equally cryptic answers abound. “The history of Frosh Revue is steeped in mystery, deception and the blood of innocent audience members,” Draxton said.
“I wouldn’t call us a cult,” Darling said. “A well-established religion, maybe.” Schwab admitted that the group’s reputation might have some basis. “Frosh Revue is an enigma of mysteriousness. I was often blindfolded.”
Director Jacobs offered more concrete insight into the motivation for the group’s philosophy. “As far as the whole Ã¢â‚¬Ëœcult’ reputation goes – we’re really more of a wacky family,” Jacobs said. “I think part of the secrecy of Frosh Revue is that it reinforces the impression, which is accurate, that this performance organically developed from the collaboration of these individuals, and it’s not some procedural – entity. It’s all about the chemistry of the cast.”
Frosh Revue is undeniably a Williams legend, but it lives up to its hype, dominating campus once a year and disappearing until the next fall. While we may never fully understand its inner workings, I’m fine with keeping the process a mystery as long as the product is as consistently high quality – they must be doing something right, whether or not James Blunt approves.