The History of the Waa-Mu Show

A Toast to the Past...

For many performers, musicians, and directors, tackling an already-premiered musical theatre production offers enough challenges. However, students at Northwestern University celebrate a tradition of creating their own script and music for the stage.

This tradition started in 1912 when the Women’s Athletic Association (W.A.A) staged its first all-female musical theatre production to sold-out audiences. Across campus, the Men’s Union (M.U.) performed all-male operettas less successfully. In 1929, as the Men’s Union’s productions continuously lost money, its members, led by seniors Joseph W. Miller and Darrell Ware, pitched the formation of a co-ed student musical theatre performance to the Women’s Athletic Association. After some coaxing- especially after the realization that the women would have to share the stage with the men- the W.A.A. and M.U. wrote and performed an original musical revue, Good Morning Glory, to ecstatic audiences of Northwestern students, staff, and the surrounding community.

The Waa-Mu team continued their tradition of student-written variety musical theatre revues. Led by the student, and after 1931, professional staff directors and board members, the students of the Waa-Mu Show collaborated to create brief skits with dialogue and song. Generally, the scenes were not connected by a single plot now used in recent Waa-Mu productions. Directors and board members held the right to override student-written material; in 1935, they turned down the students’ original script to instead stage Ray Henderson’s Good News. The board exercised their power again in 1938 and 1993 with George Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing and Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town, respectively.

Despite a hiatus during World War II from 1943-1945 during which the profits from previous productions were invested in war bonds, the Waa-Mu Show continued through the 20th century with its musical revue-style scripts. Since the building’s construction in 1941, the production performed in Scott Hall’s Cahn Auditorium.

However, in the 2013 production entitled Flying Home, the Waa-Mu Show transitioned from a musical revue to a full-length, original musical. Over the past seven years, students and Northwestern staff members collaborate in “Creating the Musical” and “Orchestrating the Musical” classes, led by professors, Head Writers and Team Music, to write and compose original script, orchestrations, and lyrics over the school year.

Notable Alumni

· 1937- Walter Kerr: Broadway theatre critic for New York Times from 1966 to 1983.

· 1949- Claude Akins: stage, screen, and television character actor, known for his portrayal of Sheriff Elroy P. Lobo in the television series “B.J. and the Bear”.

· 1949- Sheldon Harnick: Lyricist of the of Fiddler on the Roof (winner of the Tony Award for Best Composer and Lyricist) , She Loves Me, and Fiorello!, among others.

· 1954- George Furth: Broadway actor, librettist, and playwright known for his book and music partnerships with Stephen Sondheim on the musicals Company and Merrily We Roll Along.

· 1955- Warren Beatty: Film actor, director, and producer nominated for fourteen Academy Awards.

· 1956- Garry Marshall: Television and film writer and director famed for producing 1970s sitcoms Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley and directing popular films such as Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries.

· enrolled 1959- Ann-Margret: Singer and actress known for her numerous film and television roles, especially in Bye Bye Birdie and Carnal Knowledge.

· 1960- Larry Grossman: Composer for musical theatre, pop, television, film, and concert including the musical A Christmas Memory and Michael Jackson’s “Gone Too Soon”.

· 1961- Karen Black: Theatre and film actress known for her roles in The Great Gatsby, Invaders from Mars, and Family Pilot.

· 1962- Penny Fuller: Stage, film, and television actress nominated for six Emmy Awards and winning the 1982 Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series Special for The Elephant Man.

· 1965- Frank Galati: Member of Steppenwolf Theatre Company, for which he wrote the 1990 Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Direction of a Play, an adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath. Galati has also won nine Joseph Jefferson Awards in recognition for his contributions to Chicagoland theatre.

· 1980- Megan Mullally: Television, theatre, and film actress who received seven Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her performance in Will & Grace from 2000 to 2006.

· 1980- Gregg Edelman: Stage actor with over a dozen Broadway credits.

· 1986- Jeff Blumenkrantz: Stage composer, lyricist, and actor known for his performances in Into the Woods, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Bright Star.

· 1989- Ana Gasteyer: Actress on Saturday Night Live from 1996 to 2002.

· 1990- Brian d’Arcy James: Actor known for his performances in Broadway productions of Hamilton, Shrek the Musical, and Sweet Smell of Success, for which he received a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical in 2002.

· Enrolled 1992- Heather Headley: Stage actress known for her originating performances as Nala in The Lion King and the titular role of Aida, for which she won the 2000 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

· 1997- Zach Braff: Director, screenwriter, and actor best known for his Primetime Emmy Award-winning role, J.D., on the television series Scrubs from 2001 to 2010.

Complete List of Directors of the Waa-Mu Show



1929-1975---Joe W. Miller

1976-1990---Tom Roland

1991-1993---Tom Roland and Dominic Missimi

1994-2010---Dominic Missimi

2011-present---David H. Bell