The 91st annual Waa-Mu Show returned to the mainstage with ‘kooky’ comedy ‘A Peculiar Inheritance’

Nixie Strazza, Reporter

The 91st Annual Waa-Mu Show will return to in-person performances for the first time in two years this weekend, debuting “A Peculiar Inheritance,” which will run from April 29 to May 8 in Cahn Auditorium.

The original musical was written, produced and composed almost entirely by Northwestern students and explores themes of family relations, loss and young adults’ lives through a race to solve a watch-related puzzle.

One of the University’s oldest theatrical traditions, Waa-Mu gives student artists the opportunity to participate in the production of an original musical from first drafts to final bows. Communication junior and Waa-Mu Co-Chair Madeline Oberle said she quickly fell in love with the professional, but still educational, experience the group provides.

“We have the flexibility of educational theatre, and we’re all still learning and growing, but these are people who really know their stuff and are incredibly talented,” Oberle said. “There are student writers writing things that could easily be on a Broadway stage.”

The writing process for each new musical begins the summer before, Oberle said. The creative team got together in July 2021 to pitch ideas and by Fall Quarter 2021, it had begun hammering out character breakdowns, costumes and set design, Oberle said.

Communication junior and Writing Coordinator Jared Son said the heart of the show lies in how the protagonists handle themselves under the pressures of one “zany” night in a giant family home. Son said he and his fellow writers wanted to showcase the lessons of resilience that can be learned from younger generations, especially coming out of pandemic-related uncertainty.

“We can learn from the youth and what they struggle through, and still see them come out on top in the end,” Son said.

When deciding on what type of show it wanted to create for the organization’s 91st iteration, Oberle said the writing board drew from the universal obstacles college students encounter. The show unpacks moving away from home, entering the job market and learning to be an adult while still leaving plenty of moments for comic relief.

The characters in “A Peculiar Inheritance” were written to be between 18 and 23 years old to make them more relatable to the college demographic — a divergence from last year’s production of “The Secret of Camp Elliott,” which catered to a middle school audience. Taking inspiration from Rian Johnson’s 2019 whodunit film “Knives Out,” Oberle said the result was a “more edgy” and mysterious Waa-Mu production.

“We did put our lead in a sweater for a very specific reason,” Oberle said. “That being to emulate Chris Evans in ‘Knives Out.’”

With eight months to accomplish what would normally be a years-long endeavor, Oberle said creating a new musical felt like a whirlwind of constantly moving parts.

“We were actively writing the script while the designers were going through their design presentations and we were building in the Wirtz shops,” she said.

During Winter Quarter, the team focused on bringing to life empathetic characters, a process Communication freshman Sadie Fridley said gave actors a chance to build a persona from the ground up.

Fridley first started her work with “A Peculiar Inheritance” as a member of Waa-2, an annual cohort of freshmen recruited Fall Quarter to perform early versions of the script. She then became an official member of Team Music and was cast as Abigail Lindsey in the mainstage production.

In developing a character for its stage debut, Fridley said she had far greater latitude to make bold choices than in a traditional rehearsal setting.

“You have to decide things for the character that in another process may have already been decided for you,” Fridley said.

Up until curtain, Fridley said tweaks are still being made to songs and scripts as new discoveries are made. Since the show doesn’t have the same strict canon as something like a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, Fridley said the development of “A Peculiar Inheritance” is never frozen.

Oberle said she hopes college students find comfort in seeing characters conquer the same challenges they face in their everyday lives and leave their seats with a greater sense of self-assurance.

“You are going to figure it out, and you are going to be okay,” Oberle said. “The promise of young people is all this show is about.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Sadie Fridley’s last name. The correct spelling is “Fridley,” not “Fridely.” The Daily regrets the error. 

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Twitter: @NixieStrazza

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