Harvard and Yale battle it out in a lighthearted competition at 54 Below hosted and directed by Tom Toce
by: Linda Amiel Burns
Everyone certainly gave it the “old college try” when singers and songwriters from Harvard and Yale battled it out at 54 Below on September 8, 2015. This special evening of music and song was conceived, hosted and directed by Tom Toce (Yale ’78) with co-producer and musical director Madeline Smith (Harvard ’14) and Associate Producer, Megan Loughran (Harvard Yale ’09)). There were three “unbiased” celebrities given the difficult job of judging the competition: Rachel Dratch of Saturday Night Live fame (Dartmouth), lyricist Amanda Green (Brown) and Broadway’s Bob Stillman (Princeton).
This clever and entertaining show was divided into 7 “heats.” Beginning with “Race of the Titans” – Leonard Bernstein (Harvard ’39) against Cole Porter (Yale 1913). Elizabeth Leimkuhler (Harvard ’15) sang a terrific version of “100 Easy Ways To Lose a Man” from Wonderful Town pitted against Porter’s “Love For Sale” sung with feeling by Benjamin Eakeley (Yale ’00). The 2nd heat was called “Race of the Millenials” – those who graduated in the last 6 years.
The songwriters were Zoe Sarnak (Harvard ’09) whose song “You Leave Me Blind” was sung by Rachel Flynn (Harvard ’10). Then a song written by Ben Wexler (Yale ’11) & Mark Sonnenblick’ (Yale ’12) “All I Saw Was You” was beautifully sung by Sam Bolen (Yale ’10).
The next competition with called “Turbulence” pitting Maury Yeston (Yale ’67) against John Forster (Harvard ’69). John was in the audience as Jaclyn Huberman (Harvard ’01), announcing that she had just had a baby, sang his riotous “Codependent With You” and Cicily Daniels (Yale ’98) performed the moving “Unusual Way” from Nine.
The competition heated up with “Hey, Let’s Cut Class and Write a Song” began with a “A Modest Proposal” written by Laurence O’Keefe (Harvard ’91) and Nell Benjamin (Harvard ’93) who met and married in college. Led by Rachel Flynn (Harvard ’10), the group of singers on stage were challenged to “not look at their phones,” a very funny song about today’s phone obsession. Then Kim Oler (Yale ’76) sang an emotional song that he wrote with Tom Toce in 1992 called “After All” dedicated to his wife of 31 years. At this point it was announced that Harvard was ahead by one point.
Heat #5 was called “Revenge of the Nerds” with two songs about over achieving Ivy Leaguers. First was up was Richard Maltby & David Shire’s iconic “Crossword Puzzle” from Starting Here, Starting Now. Both men met at Yale (class of ’59) and were sons of orchestra leaders. Lucie Ledbetter (Yale ’15) did a bang up job on this clever song. Matt Corriel’s (Harvard ’05) “Three Cheers for Sheldon” was about getting the answers from the nerd Sheldon and Barry Shafrin (Harvard ’10) well acted the part. Sam Perwin (’04), Jojo Karlin (’05) and Jennifer Brown (’07) were the students benefiting from Sheldon’s genius. This was definitely an audience pleaser.
With only two rounds to go, the competition got more serious with “The Human Race,” songs about longing for love. “If Ever I Would Leave You” from Camelot with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner (Harvard ’40) was sung with feeling by Sam Perwin (Harvard ’04). Then the raunchy surprise of the evening. Megan Loughran (Yale ’09) quietly began “The Pregnancy Song” written by Bobby Lopez (Yale ’97) and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez. It was about how we all got here and I won’t say the words here – but the song brought down the house!
The numbers were close, so the final round “Cantata Ta-ta” was important as it could make or break the competition. The song “Island in the Sun” was written by Rivers Cuomo (Harvard ’06) and performed with calypso props by Jacob Brandt (’14), Matt DaSilva (’12), Phil Gillen (’13), and Jonathan Stevens (’14). The final song written by Jonathan Coulton (Yale ’93) was entitled “Code Monkey” and performed by “Brennan Caldwell (’12) as the guy stuck in coding with great back up by Jay Frisby (’09), Megan Loughran (’09), Kate Berman (’11) and Lucie Ledbetter (’15) – the arrangement by Zac Sandler (’08).
When the final score was announced, cheers went up from about half the room. It was Harvard 25 – Yale 39. However, by that time it really didn’t matter as everyone was a winner! Kudos to Tom, Madeline, Megan, the songwriters and singers who made this a very special show. A great time was had by all at this unusual and brilliant musical evening.