Performers and crew members are making final preparations for the 80th annual incarnation of Northwestern’s popular Waa-Mu show, set to open Friday evening. At a complete run-through of the show last week, the many strengths and flaws of the performance weren’t the first topic that arose when speaking with Communication senior George Bajalia, who is assistant directing Waa-Mu for the second consecutive year.
“Before I can answer any of your questions I have to correct you on something,” said Bajalia, after an uncomfortably long period of silent eye contact, before eventually relaxing his facial features. “It’s Waa-Mu, you know, like the Pokémon. That’s just something we always have to make sure people get right.”
Whether you can pronounce the show’s name correctly or not — it really is easier if you remember our favorite legendary Pokémon — you’ll be in for a treat with this year’s edition of Waa-Mu, titled “What’s Next?” The revue prides itself on being written, organized, and performed entirely by students, and “What’s Next?” is evidence that student talent at Northwestern is alive and well.
“I came to see Waa-Mu as a prospie,” said Communication senior Liz Olanoff, who has been involved with the show for four years and is one of this year’s co-chairs. “It’s a truly unique thing in the U.S., and no other school has anything so unique while still being student-driven. It really appealed to me.”
Waa-Mu should appeal to many more Northwesterners than Olanoff. “What’s Next?” is a two-and-a-half-hour musical trek through the Northwestern student experience, exposing the fears, tendencies and quirks of the student body, and often eliciting the reaction, “That’s so true!”
Bajalia and co-head writer Jack Mitchell, a Communication sophomore, both cited creating a cohesive storyline as one of the challenging aspects of Waa-Mu. The production team eventually settled on making quarters analogous to years in college; fall is seen through the eyes of freshmen, and so on. This gets a bit confusing toward the end, since the show uses juniors studying abroad in the summer, before returning to seniors capping off their collegiate experiences in the spring. Still, like most Broadway musicals, the show is much more song-oriented, and narrative concerns quickly take a backseat to the laughs that permeate Waa-Mu at every turn.
“It’s always personal for us at Waa-Mu,” Bajalia said. “What topic can we talk better about than our experience here at Northwestern?”
Spoiling all of Waa-Mu’s surprises would be unfair, but the show constantly proves to show an impeccable knowledge of Northwestern. Following a cadre of archetypal characters, audience members are treated to the student dead set on donning the costume of Willie the Wildcat, the would-be fraternity brother with an embarrassing affinity for Glee and the anti-a cappella student who is a strikingly talented singer. However, Waa-Mu’s comedy doesn’t force out more contemplative moments. One character is a workaholic pre-med student who has to look at whether her future career choice really suits her. Multiple freshman characters express their surprise when their lifestyle doesn’t experience a swift change upon arriving at college.
Waa-Mu’s precision writing is allowed to show through because everything else in the show’s production is completely dialed in. Barring the occasional vocal hiccup or missed cue, the students in the Waa-Mu cast act and sing with a level of skill and professionalism that can often conceal the fact that they’re only college students. In the same way that the fundamental skills of writers at good newspapers allow the facts in stories to shine, the level of talent in Waa-Mu’s cast maximizes the resonance of the show’s script.
From watching a Waa-Mu performance it becomes clear that, in addition to talent, those involved with the show also possess a great deal of passion.
“Waa-Mu was one thing I was interested in before coming to Northwestern,” Mitchell said. “The experience of crafting a new musical was something that seemed very exciting to do.”
Excitement is certainly the word to describe the feeling that filled Waa-Mu’s rehearsal in Cahn Auditorium. Shortly the doors will open, allowing the cast to present their commentary to larger audiences.
“Waa-Mu always has a relationship to the students,” said Bajalia, reiterating the show’s goals. “We’re Northwestern, that’s who we are.”
Waa-Mu, “What’s Next?” will be staged at 8 p.m. Friday, April 29; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 30; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 1; 8 p.m. Thursday, May 5; 8 p.m. Friday, May 6; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, May 7 and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 8, at Cahn Auditorium.
Tickets are $28 (tier one) or $21 (tier two) for the general public; $17 for seniors and Northwestern faculty and staff and area educators and administrators; and $11 for full-time students with valid IDs. Tickets may be purchased by phone from the Theatre and Interpretation Center Box Office at (847) 491-7282, or online at www.communication.northwestern.edu/tic/waamu/.