Leadership on Stage at the 50th Annual HBS Show

The Show brought together the HBS community for its 50th anniversary to enjoy a hilarious, energetic musical satire about student life featuring exceptionally talented individuals.

Shayne Gelbard (MBA ’24), Industry Insights and Satire Editor

Every year, a dedicated group of MBA students work together to put on the HBS Show, a musical comedy that satirizes the experience of being a student at HBS. With a combination of surprise, delight, and unbelievable talent on display, sentiment was near unanimous from the 1500+ attendees: the 70+ members of the HBS Show’s cast and crew took the concept to new heights, raising the quality bar for what was achievable in this time-honored tradition.

The 50th HBS Show this year was no ordinary student production. The hidden talent and creative expression of MBA students was on full display. The script was created from scratch and song lyrics custom written to the tunes of popular songs, performed by a live band. An exceptionally talented cast of actors, singers, and dancers brought this story to life on stage in Klarman Hall over three nights. This year’s musical, titled “The HBS Factory: A World of Pure Degeneration” was loosely based on the plot of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and featured parody covers of songs from the film such as “Pure Imagination”, as well as songs from other popular musicals (e.g. “My Shot” from Hamilton), and well-known pop numbers like “Welcome to the Black Parade”. It told the story of a group of students who received a ‘crimson ticket’ for the opportunity to join HBS as MBA students, and came together to save the school after discovering a secret plot by a disgruntled ex-admissions officer to bring it down.

While the self-deprecating, biting, and piercing humor often shocked audience members – due to both the writing’s honesty and impropriety – the tongue-in-cheek humor was happily embraced. “I didn’t think it was too racy at all,” says Eva Boal (MBA ’24), who attended the Show. “I think it’s really important for us to laugh at ourselves.” Even well-known faculty and administrators loved the production; one claimed that it was the most cogent show they’d seen in 10+ years, another felt they could have pushed the already border-bending humor even further to the line. MBA Chair Matt Weinzierl, who sang a short musical number each night to open the second act, agreed.

The HBS Show has evolved considerably in the 50 years since debuting in 1974. Originally a series of sketches and musical numbers strung together into a single show (similar to the HBS Show club’s Cabaret event, held each Fall), the event today is a full-blown two-act musical. Yet, the Show has remained a constant within the HBS community over this half-century, even as its form has evolved. “If you think about it, the HBS Show might be the only event where every stakeholder of this community is brought together,” says Sathvik Sudireddy (MBA ’23), a co-president of the HBS Show. “RCs, ECs, professors, alumni, staff, and their family members all attend the Show each year. Aside from commencement, what other events are there at HBS that bring people together for a common experience like this?” 

The Show was a collaborative effort over nearly eight months. Many of the members of the Show’s leadership team, including Sathvik Sudireddy (MBA ’23), Diana Ivanov (MBA ’23), Will Jaroscewicz (HBS partner), and Rachel Orol (MBA ’23) were returning first-years who loved being a part of the cast and crew their first time

around, and wanted to recreate the magic of the Show the next. They were also excited to rejoin the highly spirited Show club community, who have historically called themselves the ‘Koalas’ (since Show club members tend to be so close, a number of years back they dubbed themselves the original ‘Section K’). “This has by far been my most rewarding experience at HBS,” says Sudireddy.

After writing for the Show in her RC year, Ivanov returned to the team as head writer, excited to tell a fresh story. “When we started thinking of initial ideas, we wanted to put on a Show with a tight plot, an ensemble cast, and a theme that would be timely and resonate with the audience.” Leading a team of eight student writers, each pitched a few big ideas, but the team quickly converged on the idea of parodying Willy Wonka. “As we thought about characters, we wanted to do something different from the typical character tropes…we thought they should better represent the shifting intellectual, socio-economic, and experiential diversity that exists at HBS. But we could also use casting to subvert audience expectations – placing international students, genders, and orientations in roles we wouldn’t typically expect,” Ivanov continued. Throughout our interview, she mentioned on multiple occasions that the writing was all done by her team; her job was only to ‘set the stage’ for creativity to be unleashed. “The main thing we wanted to be mindful of was that the satire never punched down on anyone – only across… it was going to be savage, but inclusively savage.” But the ‘savageness’ clearly had an impact. “I heard multiple times from people who attended, ‘the Show made me think’…as a writer, there is no better compliment you can get.” 

The Show also relied heavily on business savvy to make it more accessible and run ‘in the black.’ Sudireddy mentioned that the Show introduced sponsorships from businesses for the first time this year, and leveraged the surplus from Cabaret to minimize ticket prices for the Show later on in the year. “The sentiment from last year was that the ticket prices were too high, and we felt it was critical to lower it”.

After the script was completed in late Fall, the work of bringing it to life began. “There is so much unbelievable talent at this school. We auditioned between 50-60 people over a 3-day period, looking for folks who could both sing and act in the core set of leads,” says the Show’s director, Will Jaroscewicz. “But the sense that an actor or dancer was committed was also very critical, considering we’d be rehearsing 2-3 times per week.” He spent a great deal of our conversation highlighting the collaborative effort the Show truly was. “I said to everyone upfront: this is not a dictatorship. When we’re here, let’s respect each other’s time and take the work seriously. But most importantly, let’s create something and really enjoy doing it. I constantly reminded the team that it’s a low-stakes environment – if we put on a great Show, but no one enjoys doing it, what’s the point.” 

After the run of the Show completed, team members had different perspectives on what they felt the Show was trying to say. “Satire accomplishes something very important,” says Rachel Orol (MBA ’23), who played the Anna Delvey character and was the Show’s vocal director. “It gives people a sense of perspective. It allows us to step out of our bubble, and see it reflected back at us with a humorous slant. As an MBA student, we sort of think that because our whole world is HBS, that the whole world is HBS. But it’s a lot weirder, funnier, and niche than we remember because we get so wrapped up in it. In a way, it solidifies this shared memory together.” 

Ivanov also saw a somewhat deeper meaning in the Show’s story. “It was a social commentary of sorts. The plot centers on whether the ‘leadership factory is broken’ and needs a fundamental change… it asks whether HBS is living up to its promise as an institution that truly creates leaders who make a difference in the world.” But despite all the overt critiques the Show makes – whether of the school’s elitism, trauma-lympics, or the eccentricities of the

case method, the general sentiment was that ultimately the Show reaffirms its mission. “We get tested by the things that happen at HBS, make the best of ourselves, and are transformed in the process. It’s not a perfect institution, but we’re all trying to do the right thing and learn about ourselves in the process.” 

It is unsurprising that this set of core ideas came from a team so clearly dedicated to leading with inclusivity, integrity, and hard work, while also building a community of people with a shared sense of purpose to create something that brings joy to those around them. While the Show’s story may question if the HBS ‘leadership factory’ is broken, just a few minutes backstage with the cast and crew reaffirms that it’s alive and well – perhaps in the best shape it’s ever been. 

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Shayne Gelbard (MBA ‘24) was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Prior to HBS, he founded a venture-backed software startup and worked in brand management at a global healthcare CPG company, and will be working in consulting this summer in New York.