2023 ‘Gaieties’ pokes fun at Stanford controversies, student experiences

Back with a “BONK!” and a “POW!,” cast and crew of “Gaieties: The Adventures of Fresh Man and Super Senior” delivered a rousing opening performance on Wednesday. In true Stanford spirit, the company outdid itself with niche Stanford jokes, over-the-top physical comedy and just the right amount of theatrical flair.

A Stanford tradition from as early as the 1920s, “Gaieties” is a completely student-run musical comedy centered around the Stanford-Berkeley rivalry performed for three nights leading up to Big Game. 

In this year’s play, directed by Jaden Southern ’25, protagonist Peter, better known by his superhero alter-ego Fresh-Man (Ryder Thompson ’27), joins forces with Super-Senior (Mandla Msipa ’26) to save Stanford from the chaos that has arisen after former Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne resigned. Berkeley spy Callie McBerkeley (Susanna Newsom ’26) has been inaugurated as the new president, and while most students accept the new authority, the two heroes are skeptical of McBerkeley’s intentions. 

Fresh-Man and Super-Senior recruit the hopeless romantic legacy student Dollie (Charlotte Kearns ’27) and the pragmatic, sassy Fresh-Woman (Wolf Baker ’27) to help them on their mission. Together, they discover McBerkeley’s secret plot to take over Stanford and orchestrate Berkeley’s Big Game victory. Along the way, the heroes are met with resistance from Sam Bankman 3 (Joshua Delgadillo ’26), Lizardbeth Holmes (Ulaina Ahn ’26) and Currymeleon (George Porteous ’27), a few of McBerkeley’s minions.

McBerkeley’s posse parodied three controversial Stanford-affiliated figures that were recently in the news: Sam Bankman-Fried, Elizabeth Holmes and William Curry. This clever artistic choice by the playwrights (Brandon Rupp ’25, Nathan Bhak ’23 M.S. ’24, Helena Vasconcelos ’24 and Skye Lyles ’25) shows that Stanford students are able to poke fun at the University’s history and controversies. 

Racing against time to save Stanford from the clutches of McBerkeley, Super-Senior and his crew walk into a party hosted at fraternity Kappa Sigma, when students protesting the fraternity break out into a saucy rendition of “Cell Block Tango” from the musical “Chicago” and later encounter a group of writers from the fictional Daily Bugle — a parody of our very own Stanford Daily — tied up by McBerkeley’s minions. 

The Daily Bugle appeared several times in the performance and was even featured in one of the opening numbers. These scenes made fun of The Daily’s at-times intense workload, among other tropes about journalism. As a writer for The Daily myself, I greatly enjoyed and related to these comical moments.

Computer science lecturers also made guest appearances during each of the shows in a lecture skit that featured Nick Parlante on Wednesday and Thursday, and Nick Troccoli ’18 M.S. ’18 as well as Julie Zelenski on Friday. During Wednesday’s performance, Parlante bowed down to the famous CS106A “Bit” robot as if praying to a deity, eliciting uproarious laughter from the audience.

Among the student cast, Newsom had incredible stage presence as McBerkeley. She commanded the stage with her powerful voice and hit impressive high notes while kicklining. Kearns also delighted the audience with her infectious energy, big smiles and exaggerated tone in which she delivered her lines, bringing Dollie to life. The ensemble also shone with their passion and versatility, switching between a variety of roles like Daily Bugle reporters, brainwashed students and frat party attendees with ease. 

The set was also refreshing. Inspired by a comic, the stage was filled with bright set pieces with panels of color separated by striking white lines for contrast, just like a comic book. Fight scenes were accompanied by an exclamation point prop held up by ensemble members. The lights accentuated the intensity to make them “jump off the page.” 

At the end of the production, Fresh-Man embarks on his own journey of self-discovery. Initially insecure about his own contributions to the team, he reaches peace with himself and becomes good friends with each member of the team (and in one case, even more than friends). After subtly flirting throughout the show, Fresh-Man and Fresh-Woman confess their feelings for each other in a love ballad and share a passionate kiss, accompanied by excited cheers from the audience. 

All in all, the performance, a whimsical take on the Stanford experience, felt very well done. Throughout the two-hour performance, I remained engaged by all the moving parts. The quirky nature of characters — like Dollie with her socialist commentary and Fresh-Man with his naive optimism — contributed to the creative, comical nature of this longtime tradition.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

This article quotes several current and former Daily staffers, Ryder Thompson, Susanna Newsom, Charlotte Kearns, George Porteous and Brandon Rupp.