Wahoo! It’s Waa-Mu! The 91st annual Waa-Mu Show, to be exact. And it’s back in person.
The original musical, written, produced, and performed by students at Northwestern University returns to campus this weekend, continuing a tradition which began in 1929.
The past two shows were held virtually, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Being back in front of an audience “completely changes the dynamic,” says Waa-Mu co-chair Daniel Maton, a second-year student from Australia.
“I can’t describe how important being in person is,” Maton adds.
Waa-Mu stands for Women’s Athletic Association (Waa) – Men’s Union (Mu) The two organizations, in what turned out to be a brilliant marketing concept, put on a combined, original musical named after themselves (Waa-Mu) on the eve of the Great Depression.
At first, Waa-Mu had a Northwestern-related theme, but in recent years, the show has been about whatever the student writers and producers turn it into.
This year’s Waa-Mu Show is entitled “A Peculiar Inheritance,” set in a mansion where family members are trying to learn how a wealthy man’s estate will be divided up, and have to solve puzzles to figure it out.
Think of it as Agatha Christie with music, a “campy, comedic mystery,” Maton explains.
“It’s a fun experience,” he adds. There are 18 original songs, the last of which was tweaked during the final dress rehearsal, just 24 hours before Opening Night.
Planning the Waa-Mu show begins right after the previous year’s performance ends.
Maton says about a dozen plot pitches are reviewed, and winnowed down to a final choice.
It takes from August until May to get everything in place, from the script, to the music, to the actual staging of the performance.
“It’s something unique,” Maton says, “for students to be able to create a show from scratch.”
There are almost 190 students involved with Waa-Mu, from a cast of 25, an orchestra of 16, as well as writers, stage and production crew, and managers.
Maton says Waa-Mu participants are very aware of the show’s tradition. Before they became well known in Hollywood, people like Cloris Leachman, Paul Lynde, Warren Beatty, Ann-Margret, Ana Gasteyer, Brian d’Arcy James, and Zach Braff were simply students at Northwestern adding Waa-Mu to their resumes.
Maton says he recently went through the show’s archives, and found posters dating back to the 1929 original.
“It was like ‘wow!,’ he said about the discovery. Waa-Mu is “something special. It’s a legacy and a tradtion.”
Performances are April 29 and 30, and May 5, 6, and 7 at 7:30 p.m. Matinees are May 1 and May 8 at 2 p.m. All shows are at the Wirtz Center. Tickets are from $10 to $30.
And who knows, you might just see someone who’ll become a household showbiz name in the near future.
Plus, you can also turn to the person next to you and say proudly, “I know what Waa-Mu stands for!”