From swimming to singing: The Dolphin Show's unlikely origin
    Photos courtesy of the Northwestern University Archives and Zachary Baer. Production by Taylor Soppe / North by Northwestern.

    Northwestern’s student body has a knack for naming events after animals. We’ve got Wildcat Welcome Week — clearly modeled after Willie — and then there’s Dillo Day, which evolved from a Texan student group’s festival honoring the armored creatures.

    However, a third animal-titled event’s namesake may be shrouded in more mystery than others: The Dolphin Show. Every winter, when posters crop up for Carousel, The Wizard of Oz or this year’s production, Parade, I am puzzled by the connection between musicals and marine mammals. The answer wasn’t hard to find at the answer at Northwestern University Archives and it all lay in that first show seventy-one years ago.

    The origin of the Dolphin Show was unusual, beginning in the waters of the Patten Pool in 1939 when a men’s swimming team known as the Dolphin Club, held a water ballet performance as a fundraiser. The “Dolphin Show” proved to be a huge hit and became an annual event, and in 1949, expanded to include female swimmers — the Lorelei Club. The show program from 1949 boasted lavish acts such as: “The Chlorine Chlorines: nine tantalizing sophisticates in an unforgettable display of water wizardry, with special emphasis on their prodigious ability in naughty aquatic nymphry.”

    By 1948, the Dolphin Club was an exclusive campus group, initiating new members with as much fanfare as many Greek organizations do. Everything wasn’t smooth swimming, though. As the popularity of the show grew, so did the backlash against it. In 1949 and 1950, the Dolphin Club was repeatedly requested to not solicit advertising from any Evanston firms or businesses already advertising in the Daily Northwestern, the Purple Parrot, the Syllabus, the Waa-Mu Showbook and many other pre-established publications.

    The Dolphin Club, however, continued to hold strong, and in 1951, they produced Jambalaya, named after a Creole casserole dish. Jambalaya was so elaborate a performance — complete with battery-powered lights that lit up the legs of the synchronized swimmers — that the show elicited the recognition of Life magazine.

    The show moved to dry land in 1970, presenting Mame in Cahn Auditorium. And since then, the show has remained there, performing a wide array of musical productions. This year’s Parade tells the haunting story of a man wrongly convicted of murder.

    “When we found Parade, we all fell in love with the material. Not only is it a true story and a very compelling musical, but it never really got its shot on Broadway,” said Executive Producer of the Dolphin Show, Communication senior Zachary Baer. The show opened last weekend, with two more performances coming up on January 29th and 30th at 8 p.m. in Cahn Auditorium.


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