The Varsity Show premiered in 1894 with the production of Joan of Arc by Guy Wetmore Carryl, CC’95. This original musical extravaganza was written and performed by College students to benefit the Columbia College Athletic Union.
This particular original musical extravaganza was developed by The Columbia College Musical Society and performed in The Manhattan Athletic Club Theatre - as Columbia did not have its own adequate performing arts venue. Warmly received by the community, Joan of Arc would set the pattern for future Varsity Shows – satirical period pieces with contemporary references.
For several years, the proceeds continued to benefit Columbia’s athletic teams, hence the name “Varsity Show,” first used for the 1900 production, The Governor’s Vrouw. Soon, however, the show was being produced as an event in its own right, and when, in 1906, the Columbia Players were organized to produce the show, it was firmly established as a campus tradition.
The show would grow into such an anticipated production that the annual competition to write the book garnered banner headlines in the Daily Spectator (the student newspaper), a 20--piece orchestra provided the music, and the show was performed at New York landmarks such as Carnegie Hall and in the ballrooms of the old Astor Hotel and Waldorf--Astoria. The show was routinely reviewed by the major city papers and for many years, the production was even taken on the road to cities like Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.