Undertones’ a cappella show features humorous take on Bienen’s life

Kira Lerner

The Undertones presented a performance based on the life of outgoing University President Henry Bienen
at the McCormick Tribune Center Forum. SOPHIA AHN/The Daily Northwestern

The Undertones spring a cappella show, “A Tribute to Henry Bienen,” this weekend both honored and mocked the life and contributions of Northwestern’s president, who will retire at the end of August.

Bienen and his wife Leigh attended the Saturday 11 p.m. performance of the hour-and-a-half show in the McCormick Tribune Center Forum.

“Everyone loved this idea for a show,” said Jason Catanese, the group’s president. “Bienen is the nicest and coolest guy.”

Emcee Tim McGovern, a Communication junior, introduced the “Henry S. Bienen Commemorative Banquet.”

“Bienen’s a very wise man,” he said. “He’s a lot like Yoda, but with better grammar – ‘refinance the provost, we will’ … he’s taken us to great heights and back; he’s done a lot of great things for Northwestern.”

The performance chronicled the life of Bienen through a series of songs and skits. The group sang “Circle of Life” after acting out Bienen’s birth, inserted “Henry Bienen is the man” into the lyrics of the song “Time Machine,” and sang “Don’t Wanna Bienen Love.” Singers played characters, including Dr. Seuss, Barack Obama and a young Leigh Bienen on the school playground.

The venue’s stage was decorated with a picture of Mount Rushmore with four Bienen heads, “Happy Retirement” streamers and paper plates and Superman tablecloths. Throughout the show, the group compared Bienen to a superhero, Buddha, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and even Ricki Lake. Students playing Bienen donned oversized glasses, while others playing his wife wore large green bows in their hair.

“She’s going to wear one now,” Bienen said.

“… maybe at graduation,” Leigh added.

Despite the segments that poked fun at his life, Bienen said he found the show funny and entertaining.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “They are great kids and they have lovely voices.”

His wife grabbed a copy of the poster on her way out of the auditorium.

Jessica Fain, a member of the group, said the Bienens seemed enthusiastic during the show.

“The Bienens were so completely gracious and accepting and really open-minded,” the SESP senior said. “We warned them that they were in for a rowdy show, and President Bienen even told me, ‘My wife and I have seen rowdier.'”

Some aspects of the show may have been more uncomfortable for the Bienens to watch, Fain said.

“We did some raunchy things,” she said. “We had a whole skit centering around Leigh as an adolescent…So there may have been times for them to blush, but I think they took it in stride.”

Fain said the theme of the show was meant to engage the NU audience.

“One of the biggest things on campus and something that unites everyone from North Campus and South Campus and every walk of life is that everyone knows that President Bienen is retiring,” she said.

Andrew Scoggin contributed reporting.

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