Hasty Pudding Still Punny After All These Years

Stage right: a chimpanzee dressed like Gilligan in bluejeans and a sailor cap perches at a typewriter. He pokes at the keys and reads his words aloud.

“To be or not to be… Nah, too existentialist.”

He tries again: “Beware the Ides of March… Hmm, too topical.”

Scratching his head with a hirsute hand, the primate––aptly named Jim Pansy, played by Harvard sophomore Sam Clark––decides on a more original opening line. His words revert to monkey screeches as the typing resumes, the stage lights up and the curtains open.

So begins Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals (H.P.T.) 2013 performance, “There’s Something About Maui.”

The Hasty Pudding Club, whose former alumni members include William Randolph Hearst, J.P. Morgan and John F. Kennedy, celebrates its 165th anniversary this year. The festivities include the usual theatrics expected of the troupe: bombastic burlesque, pun-laden dialogue, and a chorus line finale comprised of ivy league boys with stocking-clad kicks rivaling those of the Rocketts.

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This year’s student-written, directed, and acted performance takes place at a local watering hole called Sand Bar on the island of Little Maui in 1942. The motley cast of characters includes:

  • Princess Lei, a voluptuous and lovestruck hula girl
  • Helen Killer, a blind spy with a license to kill
  • Amelia Airhead, a ditzy pilot with her head in the clouds.

The cast and orchestra perform original songs entitled “Lethal Webbin’ ” and “A Soldier to Cry On,” among others, for a crowd of nearly 250, filling the Hasty Pudding Theater on Holyoke Street in Harvard Square.

The now co-ed club has a female president, writers and choreographers contributing to the production. However, keeping with tradition, the dramatis personæ remain all male, requiring some of the members to cross-dress for their roles. After the curtains close, the cast returns to the stage and earns its standing ovation with an explosive can-can in stilettos and sequins. A patron leans over and whispers, “these are our future congressmen and world leaders.”

Though rooted in history, H.P.T. reinvents itself every year with contemporary references to pop culture, politics and current events. It reprises its perennial plug for the Harvard Coop, as well as light-hearted digs at Radcliffe counterparts and rival Elis. The spectrum of entertainment attracts a variety of patrons.

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Longtime Boston resident and business owner Chris Lutes has attended the H.P.T. performances for the past four years. In 2009, his Cambridge-based restaurant group, Tigers and Bears, started sponsoring the club, which piqued his interest in the shows.

“It’s a great escape,” says Lutes, 51. “I forget that those are 20-something boys up there on stage.”

His daughter, Lilah, who turned 17 on Valentine’s Day, attends the show with him every year as part of a birthday tradition. This year, before the performance, she discovered a local treat honoring of the club: Hasty Pudding ice cream featured as J.P. Licks’ flavor of the month.

“It tastes more like frozen banana pudding than ice cream,” she says.

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H.P.T. neophyte Nora Wasson, 84, attended her first performance this year. She drove from her home in Warwick, R.I., to attend the show.  Wasson enjoyed the witty lyrics and clever puns, of which she heard and understood only some. “I wish that I was sitting closer to the stage,” she says. “I heard laughter and felt that I missed a lot of the jokes.”

The show’s combination of bright costumes, uplifting music and dance moves appeal to Wasson the most, which entice her to return next year. “I can’t believe that men are so loose in the hips as to do the hula.”

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