Waa-Mu presents the quintessential American road trip

Abbie Vansickle

It’s that time of year again when the stage in Cahn Auditorium is filled with gaudy, bright-colored costumes, sparkling scenery and young actors and actresses spouting student-written show tunes. It’s Waa-Mu time.

The Waa-Mu Show is an annual tradition at Northwestern that started in 1929 when the Men’s Union and Women’s Athletic Association joined forces to create a student-written musical. The musical became a success on campus and across the nation, garnering the title “the greatest college show in America.”

With a cast of student performers, designers, stage managers, technicians, orchestra members and writers totaling more than 100, the show is the largest student-written musical revue in the country, filling Cahn to capacity each year for nearly every performance.

This year’s show features a collaborative effort by NU students and professionals. The lighting designer is Lynne Koscielniak, the set was designed by Michael Lasswell, while costumes were created by Nancy Missimi. The sound design was created by McCormick senior Evan VanDyke and and the play’s musical score is being conducted by Music Prof. Mallory Thompson.

“Are We There Yet?” is the theme of this year’s show, which follows a group of seven college seniors as they pile into a pastel-colored car for a road trip across the United States, stopping along the way to see sights, sing, dance and make jokes about NU.

The students, played by Speech seniors Andrew Hotz, Jessica Redish, Melody Johnson and Matt Amador, Music seniors Jenni Rose, Kevin Vortmann and Emily Price, and Music junior Beau Davidson visit several national attractions, including Walt Disney World, Mount Rushmore and Bourbon Street in Louisiana.

Song and dance numbers range from an acoustic guitar ballad about a New Orleans street musician written by Speech sophomore Michael Mahler to a “Producers”-inspired routine featuring senior citizens in West Palm Beach, Fla., who dance with their walkers.

The production also includes skits such as “Roadkill Heaven,” a song during which all of the cast members wear animal costumes adorned with angel wings, the show is a mix of tender moments and over-the-top humor.

The show also has patriotic overtones. It will include a tribute to those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 entitled “Gone Too Soon” that was written by NU alumnus Larry Grossman. The show also features the traditional senior song “To the Memories.”

It’s this mix of musical styles and student theatrical talent that makes the show entertaining, said Price, one of the show’s co-chairs.

“It’s a completely new musical that has a very grassroots feeling,” Price said. “I love having the chance to work with some really amazing people and creative minds and seeing the product.”

Price, who was also cast in last year’s production, said the theme of this year’s show is especially significant to her as a senior because it is about spending time with college friends before heading out into the real world.

“It’s never going to be like this again,” she said. “I’m doing a show with all of my friends now, but after this, I have no idea what happens next.”

But for the show’s director, Speech Prof. Dominic Missimi, the 71st Waa-Mu Show begins a new era in the show’s history.

He attributed this to the efforts of NU alumus and professional screenwriter Dana Olsen, who has written for several sitcoms and films, including “George of the Jungle,” “The ‘Burbs,” and “Inspector Gadget.”

Olsen came to work with the students on a weekly basis and helped them craft a show that is less a segmented review and more of a plot-based production. Several students are now considering careers as screenwriters because of Olsen’s influence, Missimi said.

“I think this year signals a new direction because we had more of a focus on skit writing than ever before,” Missimi said. nyou