The Daily Northwestern

Waa-Mu’s ‘Flying Home’ whisks seniors off with fantastic style

Sammy Caiola, Columnist

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Bringing together “Peter Pan,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Wizard of Oz” is a daunting task in itself. Add in a student-written score, original choreography and a homemade 20-foot dragon, and you’ve got a pretty impressive piece of theater.

“Flying Home: Down the Rabbit Hole, Over the Rainbow, and Straight on Till Morning,” the 2013 Waa-Mu show, pieced together the plots of three timeless fairy tales to create a two-and-a-half-hour narrative encompassing themes of leaving home, personal growth and fear of growing up. The show, with its myriad of characters both human and creature, fantastical set and parade of outrageous costumes, was overwhelming in some very good ways — and some not-so-good ways. The three stories, already cliched and stylized in their own rights, were uncomfortably merged into one piece with only the score to hold them together. The premise was shaky, and some nuance inevitably fell through the cracks. But even so, “Flying Home” was an exciting, engaging journey of a production and an impressive feat for a team of undergraduate theater majors.

Waa-Mu, for those who don’t know, is the nation’s oldest and largest student-written theater production. Twenty students gather each fall to conceive the show, and then 55 enroll in a winter course called “Creating the Musical,” during which they write the music, script and lyrics. The class is taught by David H. Bell, a faculty member and the director of the show.

After countless hours of brainstorming, execution and rehearsal, the house lights go down in Cahn Auditorium. The stage lights come up on a band of orphaned schoolboys speaking in ambiguous British/Scottish accents. Their opening number, “Time to Grow Up”, with its bed-jumping, spirit-rousing, street-kid camaraderie, could have been straight out of “Newsies” and gives the show the adventurous energy it needs. However, the next three pieces, and many throughout the show, were mostly drawn out tonal shifts over whimsical orchestration — an amalgamation of conventional Broadway scores lacking distinction or innovation. Exceptions to that critique include pieces like “Who are You,” which promoted a cohesive style with Fosse-inspired choreography and jazzy musicality.

Other knock-outs included Communication senior Lillie Cummings’ solo “The Other Side of the Rainbow”and the touching duet between Communication seniors Ben Estus and Christopher Herr, “Ever After (Reprise).” Even amid the chaos, the boys were easy to fall in love with, and their journeys into the unknown are easy causes to rally behind. The fear of graduating boarding school and not knowing your places in the real world is a timely and relatable theme for a spring show, and the finale, “Flying Home,” full of wonder, confidence and excitement, is certainly a proper send-off for Waa-Mu seniors.

Fewer characters, or less depth for side characters, may have made the show more concise and its themes more comprehensible. The mermaid piece, for example, seemed superfluous, though the costuming was excellent. Some side characters, like Smee, played by Communication junior Ryan Bernsten, provided well-received comic relief to a plot crumbling at its seams.

Special credit should be given to the team of choreographers, who embodied the fantasy world through movement in truly remarkable ways. Communication junior Annelise Baker’s dance solo as the Chesire Cat turned heads, and Communication junior Jonny Stein’s perky portrayal of the White Rabbit was a huge draw for adults and children, alike.

All in all, the show was a magical journey for the audience, as I’m sure it was for the cast. The talented and lovable “Runt,” played by Estus, showed us all the children in ourselves and persuaded us to follow our dreams, however big. Cheesy? Yes. A super fun escape from the real world? Also yes. Good job, Waa-Mu. You get an A-.

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