The Varsity Show is one of the oldest traditions at Columbia University and its oldest performing arts presentation. Founded in 1894 as a fundraiser for the university's fledgling athletic teams, the Varsity Show now draws together the entire Columbia undergraduate community for a series of sold-out performances every April. Dedicated to producing a unique full-length spectacle that skewers and satirizes many dubious aspects of life at Columbia, the Varsity Show is written and inspired by an extensive team of cast, producers and production personnel.
The long list of alumni who have written, performed, directed, worked backstage, or otherwise been associated with the show includes such distinguished names as:
- Architect Kenneth MacKenzie Murchison, School of Architecture Class of 1894;
- Author and humorist Guy Wetmore Carryl, Class of 1895;
- William C. DeMille, 1900, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences;
- John Erskine, 1900, pioneer of the Great Books program;
- Edgar Allan Woolf, 1901, co-screenwriter of The Wizard of Oz;
- Arthur Garfield Hays, 1902, who represented the American Civil Liberties Union at the Monkey Trial of John Scopes;
- Ralph Morgan, 1904, the first president of the Screen Actors Guild;
- Roy Webb, 1910, composer for scores of films, including Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Notorious, and Marty;
- Dixon Ryan Fox, 1911, president of Union College;
- Legendary lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, 1916;
- Howard Dietz, 1917, lyricist for Dancing in the Dark and head of publicity for MGM, who created its famed Leo the Lion trademark;
- Herman Mankiewicz, 1917, who with Orson Welles wrote Citizen Kane;
- Lorenz Hart, 1918, lyricist of My Funny Valentine, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered and many other Broadway standards;
- Humorist Corey Ford, 1923, who named Eustace Tilley, the mascot of The New Yorker magazine
- Legendary songwriter Richard Rodgers, 1923;
- Cultural historian Jacques Barzun, 1927;
- Albert Maltz, 1930, one of the Hollywood Ten and screenwriter for Destination Tokyo;
- William Ludwig, 1932, screenwriter for The Great Caruso and Oscar co-winner for Interrupted Melody;
- Herman Wouk, 1934, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Caine Mutiny and Marjorie Morningstar;
- Martin Manulis, 1935, television producer and creator of Playhouse 90;
- John La Touche, 1937, lyricist for Cabin in the Sky and The Golden Apple;
- Minimalist poet Robert Lax, 1938;
- Chicago bears quarterback Sid Luckman, 1939;
- Oscar-winning screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond, 1941, Billy Wilder's co-author on The Apartment and The Fortune Cookie;
- Holocaust author Gerald Green, 1942;
- Political advisor Edward N. Costikyan, 1947;
- Dick Hyman, 1948, Emmy-award winning composer;
- Actor Sorrell Booke, 1949, who played Boss Hogg in The Dukes of Hazzard;
- Edward Kleban, 1959, lyricist for A Chorus Line;
- Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally, 1960;
- Jon Bauman, 1969, of Sha Na Na;
- Adam Belanoff, 1984, a writer/producer of Wings, Murphy Brown, Cosby, and The Closer;
- Alexa Junge, Barnard College 1986, an Emmy-nominated writer/producer of Friends and The West Wing;
- Comedic essayist David Rakoff, 1986;
- Alex Kuczynski, Barnard College 1990, Styles reporter for The New York Times;
- Eric Garcetti, 1992, mayor of Los Angeles;
- Tom Kitt, 1996, Tony Award-winning composer of Next To Normal;
- Donna Vivino, Barnard College 2000, actress in Wicked;
- Kelly McCreary, Barnard College 2003, actress on Grey's Anatomy;
- Jenny Slate, 2004, cast member, Saturday Night Live;
- Greta Gerwig, Barnard College, 2006, co-star of Greenberg (film), Damsels in Distress and several Mumblecore films;
- Kate McKinnon, 2006, actress on Saturday Night Live and The Big Gay Sketch Show.
The I.A.L. Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts
The I.A.L. Diamond Award is presented on annual basis to a Columbia or Barnard alumnus/a who has demonstrated continued commitment to and has found success in the arts. I. A. L. Diamond (1920–88) is the only individual to have written four consecutive Varsity Shows. He then went on to Hollywood to write eleven screenplays with Billy Wilder for the latter's films, including Some Like it Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960). Diamond and Wilder won the 1960 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Apartment.
In 2004, Terrence McNally was the first recipient of the award. McNally graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia College with a B.A. in English in 1960 and went on to author works such as Master Class, Love! Valour! Compassion!, and Ragtime. During his senior year at Columbia, McNally wrote the 66th Annual Varsity Show, which featured music by fellow student Edward Kleban (who would later share the Pulitzer Prize for A Chorus Line) and was directed by Michael Kahn (later the artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.).
In 2005, Jeanine Tesori, Barnard College Class of 1983, was honored with the award. Ms. Tesori was the music director for the 89th Annual Varsity Show and then came back a year in 1984 to write the music for the 90th Annual Varsity Show. She is a three-time Tony Award nominee for her work on Twelfth Night (1998, Lincoln Center), Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Caroline, or Change.
In 2007, Brandon V. Dixon, member of the Columbia College community, received the award. Mr. Dixon performed in the cast of the 107th Annual Varsity Show. He later received a Tony Award nomination for his performance of Harpo in The Color Purple. He also originated the role of Simba in the national tour of The Lion King.
In 2008, the award was presented to Tom Kitt (CC '96) and Brian Yorkey (CC '93). For their musical Next To Normal, featuring music by Kitt and book/lyrics by Yorkey, the pair won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Original Score and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. While at Columbia, the duo wrote the music, lyrics, and book to the 100th Annual Varsity Show, Angels at Columbia: Centennial Approaches.
In 2010, the award was presented to Twyla Tharp, a Barnard College '63 alumna. She is the choreographer of many famous dances, multiple Broadway shows, and the film version of the musical Hair. She is the winner of Tony and Emmy awards.
123 Years of the Varsity Show
- Thomas Vinciguerra: "Sing a Song of Morningside," an official history of the show 
- The Varsity Show – Official Page
- Columbia University
- Rohrs, Ali. "113th Varsity Show Cast Announced" Columbia Spectator. (November 22, 2006)
- Lipkin, Suzanne. "Homer Hosts the Varsity Show" Columbia Spectator. (April 21, 2005)
- Putnam, Ashley. "I'm Sorry Mr. Jackson, This Show Was for Real" Columbia Spectator. (April 22, 2004)
- Russo, Jax. "110th Annual Varsity Show" Columbia Spectator. (April 15, 2004)
- Greenwell, Megan. "Frosted Phallus: Varsity Show Serves Up Provocative Pastry" Columbia Spectator. (November 14, 2003)
- Cusick, Colleen. "Varsity Show: An Evolving Tradition" Columbia Spectator. (April 24, 2003)
- Russo, Jax. "109th Varsity Show, Dial "D" for Deadline, Opens Friday" Columbia Spectator. (April 10, 2003)
- Fitzner, Ana. "Varsity Show Reach Exceeds Its Grasp" Columbia Spectator. (May 3, 2002)
- Russo, Jax. "Varsity Show 2002 Ready to Rock" Columbia Spectator. (April 25, 2002)