Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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The 93rd annual Waa-Mu Show ‘Taken Away’ makes ambitious choice with trilogy structure

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Illustration by Sophie Zhang
The 93rd annual Waa-Mu Show, “Taken Away: A Musical Trilogy,” is separated into three one-act musicals.

A writer’s room as large as the Waa-Mu Show’s student team comes with benefits and drawbacks. For one, there is an almost boundless well of ideas to work with. However, having too many hands on the pen can (and usually does) make a show incohesive.

“Taken Away: A Musical Trilogy” seems to be the team’s answer to this conundrum. After 93 years since its founding, the Waa-Mu Show tries out a new structure, showcasing three one-act musicals: “Art of the Heist,” an art heist dramedy, “Stolen Thunder,” a modern drama with ancient Greek deities and “A Bird’s Song,” a post-apocalyptic tale of friendship.

Guided by the prompt, “Heist. Now go,” each act of the musical explores the complexities of deception, love and rediscovery. The three Fates of Greek mythology serve as narrators, weaving the three stories together with quippy commentary.

It is not a perfect solution. Even shorter run times couldn’t pull the music together, and the first two acts suffer from poor pacing.

Marble slabs, silk curtains and a candle-lit stage set the scene for “Art of the Heist.” We see a young woman preparing a seance and ruminating over a painted portrait. The sounds of an unseen gothic chorus reverberate through the auditorium. You can’t help but be in awe of the melodramatic flair.

Soon after, we learn that the woman is an artist named Steph (Communication sophomore Lily Ramras) and that she is trying to communicate with the woman in her painting — her late sister, Lily (Communication sophomore Nora James Eikner). It’s not her first attempt, but it is the first that works. Lily’s spirit emerges through the curtains, and she is willing to do whatever it takes to keep Steph’s attention — gradually isolating her and prodding at her deepest insecurities.

Adding to the drama is the sale of her painting, arranged by bestie-agent duo Vik (Communication freshman Henry Jones) and Cedar (Weinberg sophomore Anand Choudhary). When Lily’s spirit disappears after this sale, Steph takes matters into her own hands by planning a heist to get her portrait back.

“Art of the Heist” could have been a poignant take on grief and the way it can consume one’s spirit, but it was not well executed. The conflict ramps up quickly and resolves itself not long after. There’s also the music, which starts strong but fizzles out in the middle. Some songs also felt tepid compared to the grandiose choral arrangements.

The silk curtains are bunched into neat columns for “Stolen Thunder,” an Andrew Lloyd Webber-esque rock opera that follows a young pickpocket, Nell (Communication senior Anna Rosenthal), as she gets caught up in Athena (Communication sophomore Kate McCracken) and Zeus’ (Communication senior Declan Collins) familial feud. Despite the thrilling orchestration, the repetitive and lackluster lyrics prevent the act from living up to its godly premise.

The writers strike gold with the third act, “A Bird Song,” which begins after intermission. At this point, the curtains are pushed offstage, revealing the industrial wood paneling of the back wall. Red lights wash the stage as factory workers enter, performing a spoken song with rhythmic mechanic whirs as accompaniment.

Then, a smooth vocal melody breaks through the noise, catching the attention of one worker, Jude (Communication junior Sadie Fridley). Captivated by the “flying sound,” as she calls it, Jude sneaks into the forest and meets the crooner behind the tune, Bird (Communication sophomore Kiki Sikora). Their friendship is controversial among the other forest creatures, who distrust humans and their destructive force.

“A Bird Song” is a charming comedy that pulls at the heartstrings. Fridley and Sikora do a masterful job at drawing out the wonder crucial to the story.

Even with its flaws, this year’s Waa-Mu Show is a fun watch. As always, the show’s greatest strengths are its actors. Despite her brief stage time, Eikner leaves a mark with her deftly sinister performance as Lily. And Rosenthal, who played Dot in last fall’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” is a diamond in the often-rough “Stolen Thunder.” Also impressive is the transformation of the stage between stories. Despite a modest amount of set pieces, each act feels spatially unique.

“Taken Away” is a bumpy ride, but it is worth seeing if only for the moving third act. The musical opens again this weekend from Friday, May 3, to Sunday, May 5.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @jahariia

Related Stories:
The 92nd annual Waa-Mu Show takes audience through a whirlwind of love stories with ‘Romance en Route’
The 91st annual Waa-Mu Show returned to the mainstage with ‘kooky’ comedy ‘A Peculiar Inheritance’
Annual Waa-Mu Show brings student-written musicals to the stage

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