Tag Archives: Petey Menz

Petey Menz’s Hasty Pudding

Wikipedia calls Hasty Pudding “a theatrical student society at Harvard University, known for its burlesque cross-dressing musicals.” They were described by John Wheelwright in 1897 as “a kindly association of men of all ages in a gay evening of simple enjoyment.”

The meaning of “gay” has changed a bit since then. Hasty Pudding has not.

Presented annually since 1844 — except during 3 war years — the comedy productions still feature exactly 12 male performers (6 play men; the other 6 play women). There is a live pit orchestra, but no computers or synthesizers. The plots are silly, the jokes crude, the production values low, the puns anachronistic and sophomoric.

A typical Hasty Pudding show.

A typical Hasty Pudding show. Those guys are lookin’ good!

But it worked for Hasty Pudding members of yore like Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Randolph Hearst, Alan Jay Learner and Jack Lemmon.

And writing the Hasty Pudding show helped launch the careers of — more recently — comedian Mo Rocca, librettist Mark O’Donnell (“Hairspray”), and Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation,” “The Office,” “Boston Public”).

Petey Menz hopes some of that magic fairy dust rubs off on him.

The 2011 Staples graduate is co-writing the 2015 Hasty Pudding show. In a rare exhibition of burlesque cross-dressing musical genius, he also helped pen last year’s production.

Petey Menz

Petey Menz

The 2nd and 3rd times were the charm for Petey and his freshman roommates. They entered the writing competition as a lark that 1st year. “We didn’t know what we were doing,” he recalls. “But it was fun.”

Harvard students are smart. So Petey and his pals figured out what they needed to do to succeed. In the summer of 2013 they were chosen to write the 2014 show. Last year, they were picked again.

Yeah, it takes that long to write — then produce — the show.

It’s not your average theatrical production. There are 30 or so dates in Cambridge (this year’s opening is February 6). Then it goes on the road, for more performances in New York and (I”m sure there’s a reason for this) Bermuda.

“There’s a lot of spitballing in the beginning,” Petey says of the writing process. (The term refers to brainstorming, not the juvenile game that may seem appropriate to a Hasty Pudding production.)

Eventually, Petey’s team came up with the settings: Victorian England last year, medieval Spain this time. Then they had to create scenes (making sure each character had equal stage time — another tradition), write lyrics, and make sure it was all appropriately sophomorically funny.

The bulk of the work is done during the summer. Because Petey and his co-writers were all in different places, they communicated via Skype and Google Hangouts. (I don’t think that’s the way it was done in 1844.)

Hasty pudding logo

The Hasty Pudding logo

It’s a “self-consciously antique form of theater,” Petey admits. “This is one of the last institutions in the world to do theatrical drag shows. But it’s fun to to beef up what started as a skeletal scene, and it’s rewarding to see that jokes you’ve fine-tuned actually get laughs.”

Petey hopes his 2 years as a Hasty Pudding collaborator will help get him a writing job after he graduates this spring. He’s got a joint concentration in English and art history. [Insert your own finding-a-job joke here.]

Staples’ Challenge

Victor Hollenberg is a language, geography, history and politics whiz.  Naveen Murali is a math expert.  Petey Menz takes care of culture and literature.  Gabe Block and Rachel Myers nail the sciences.

Individually, they’re 5 of Staples’ brightest students.  Collectively, they make up the school’s Challenge team.

Inspirationally, you’ll love watching them compete on Cablevision’s “The Challenge.”  They’ll take on Connecticut teams 1st, then attempt to move on to the tri-state championship in the spring.

The winners earn $10,000 for their school.  Victorious team members get $500 each.

The opening round airs Tuesday, Jan. 19, at 6:30 p.m. on MSG Varsity (Cablevision Channel 14).  The Challenge repeats on News 12 Connecticut Saturday and Sunday evenings, at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m.  The 1st foe is Greenwich.  Confidentiality prohibits us from reporting how badly Staples kicks Greenwich’s butt who wins.

Staples' Challenge team: Rear (from left): Petey Menz, Naveen Murali, Victor Hollenberg, Gabe Block. Front: Rachel Myers.

“Like any good team — in sports or academics — they collaborate well in the few seconds they have,” says Jim Goodrich.  He and Julia McNamee co-advise the Challenge team.

“These kids have such knowledge,” he marvels.  “This is a way for them to showcase what they know, for an objective other than grades.”

Goodrich adds:  “They’re not just bright kids who have acquired an incredible number of facts.  They’re also wired to hear a question, and instantaneously have the answer.”

The co-advisor enjoys his role.  “I get to spend time with smart kids.  They’re very normal, and a lot of fun — but they can talk about an enormous range of things.  It’s stimulating for them to be with each other, and for me to hear them talk.”

“The Challenge” is like “Jeopardy” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” meets “GE College Bowl.”  Questions include math factoring, physics and authors; categories can be as whimsical as “California” and “People in Uniform.”

“I love trivia,” Petey — the culture/language guy — says.  “This feels just like a sports team.  It’s more competitive than my other school activities (Inklings newspaper and Junior State).  We practice a lot, and we really want to win.”

Training sessions include answering questions provided by Goodrich and McNamee; watching tapes of past episodes; even honing skills like conferring and buzzing in.

“Last year we got locked out a lot, because we buzzed in too early,” Petey explains.

Petey enjoyed the recent competition, taped at Cablevision’s New York studio.  He was not fazed that Greenwich had more fans.  “Mr. Dodig (Staples’ principal) doesn’t want to take kids out of class to watch other kids answer questions,” Petey notes.  “So we didn’t have the Superfans, like at sports events.”

Petey’s grandparents were there, however, cheering him on.

“It’s a lot of fun,” the junior says.  “It can be stressful, but you don’t feel bad if you get an answer wrong.  There’s always another one coming at you.”