Standing on stage in a blonde wig at the opening of the annual 100th Night Show, Class of 2020 Cadet Evan Brunner says goodbye to the classmates portraying his parents and sets off on his 47-month experience at the U.S. Military Academy.
When he next returns to stage, Brunner’s wig has been replaced by a bald cap symbolizing the haircut male new cadets receive on Reception Day and he begins to sing.
Brunner’s on-stage journey takes him through the ups and downs of his time at the academy including Beast Barracks, plebe duties, his first Army-Navy Game and finally Firstie year and the changes that came along with a new commandant of cadets and brigade tactical officer.
The 47 months become 19 scenes across two acts, with slightly more singing and dancing than is typically found at the academy, as Brunner and his classmates recap their cadet career with only 100 days left.
The 100th Night Show has been a tradition at West Point since 1871 and has been performed as an original musical since 1903. The show is a chance for the cadets in the graduating class to remember their time at West Point and poke fun at the experience as it comes to an end.
The show is unique each year and is written, choreographed and produced by members of the class. This year, Class of 2020 Cadets Taylor Krug and Jacob Wells co-wrote the show.
“You don’t get quite everything (into the show). You get the big moments; the parts people are still talking about today,” Krug said. “When we did auditions, we asked all of our now cast members what’s one thing you’ll talk about 20 years from now? We tried to put those events and those jokes into our show.”
Krug and Wells have both been involved in the Theater Arts Guild while at West Point and worked on the technical crew for the 100th Night Show the last three years. This year, along with co-writing the show, they stepped into the role of producer, Krug, and director, Wells.
As they worked to bring the show to life, they said they leaned on what they had learned from working on previous shows. Things they remembered not working they made sure not to include and parts they thought were funny they built upon in their own show.
This year’s show used the popular anonymous messaging apps Yik Yak and Jodel as a major part of the story. It also included a duet between cadets portraying Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Curtis A. Buzzard and Brigade Tactical Officer Col. Kyle Marsh.
“It’s another way we can be diverse,” Brunner, who stars in the show, said of why it is put on every year. “A lot of times you come to a military academy and you think they’re going to do drill, they’re going to do ceremony and they’re going to learn how to be Soldiers. Seeing us in a different setting and having to get outside of our comfort zone and kind of push a little further, this is another way we can reach out to more people.”
For the last five years, the 100th Night Show has included original music composed by a member of the West Point Band. After the cadets write the lyrics, they give them to the band along with suggestions such as wanting a particular song to sound like rock or which parts need to be slow. Members of the band then compose and perform the music, bringing the show to life.
“It’s really a testament to their creativity and their ability and willingness to collaborate with us,” said Master Sgt. Michael Reifenberg, who composed the music this year. “It turns it into this tangible thing that brings not only satisfaction to them, but hopefully entertainment to their audience.”
The two performances of the show are part of a weekend of celebration marking 100 days until graduation. The weekend also included Saturday’s 100th Night Banquet.
Retired Gen. David G. Perkins, former commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, was the guest speaker at the banquet.
Perkins graduated from West Point in the Class of 1980 and retired from the Army in 2018.
“I can definitely reassure you knowing what you’ve gone through these four years … you are well prepared to be a platoon leader and lieutenant in the United States Army,” Perkins said. “You’re not completely trained and there’s still a lot of training to be had. We’ll send you to the basic course and then we’re going to give you the ultimate trainer in the world called a noncommissioned officer. Then their job will be to continue to train you and your platoon sergeants and all these other folks, but you are well prepared. You are well prepared to be a leader of character. You are well prepared to continue to learn and you are well prepared to set the example of what a great leader does.”
West Point’s Class of 2020 will graduate May 23.