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  Northwestern University
March 29, 2001
Vol. 16, No. 21  
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Warren Beatty Warren Beatty performed at the Silver Jubilee of Waa-Mu in 1956
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Waa-Mu Northwestern's long-running version of Star Search

Northwestern’s Waa-Mu Show, the musical revue that helped to launch the careers of dozens of Broadway and Hollywood performers, has been a campus tradition for more than 70 years. This year marks the 70th production in its history.

The goal of the annual show is to celebrate all the aspects of music theater and highlight the talents of undergraduate student performers.

Famous personalities who have appeared in past Waa-Mu shows have included Claude Atkins, Warren Beatty, Karen Black, Nancy Dussault, Sheldon Harnick, Heather Headley, Carol Lawrence, Cloris Leachman, Ann-Margret, and former Miss America Kate Shindle.

The first Waa-Mu Show was presented by the Women’s Athletic Association and the Men’s Union during the 1929-30 academic year. Joe Miller (’29) and Darrell Ware (’29), two Phi Delta Theta seniors, wrote the script and staged the college musical comedy that became "Waa-Mu." To help finance the first production, Miller and Ware raised $1,200 by borrowing $5 a piece from interested students.

The "Waa" stood for the Woman’s Athletic Association, which had been staging popular female musical comedies since 1912. The "Mu" was inspired by the Men’s Union, which had presented less successful all-male comic operas for a number of years.

It also was Miller’s and Ware’s idea to feature both male and female students in their premiere production. At first, the female "Waa" committee was reluctant about sharing the stage with the male "Mu" members, but they eventually agreed to combine talents.

The premiere show that Miller and Ware collaborated on, "Good Morning Glory," was such a smash that the Daily Northwestern wrote, "Campus interest is the highest yet for any single dramatic activity in University history." The glowing review prompted the producers to begin formulating and writing the following year’s show

When the annual Waa-Mu show became a "hit," it attracted the most talented students on campus. Walter Kerr was the principal writer for the 1936 musical revue entitled "It Goes to Show." Kerr graduated the following year and eventually become a famous theatre critic for the New York Times.

In 1938, Waa-Mu board members weren’t pleased with that year’s student-written script. Instead, they staged George Gershwin’s musical "Of Thee I Sing," about a presidential candidate who promises to bring more love to the White House. Actor Tony Randall (who was then known as Leonard Rosenberg), portrayed a boisterous Texas congressman in the production.

After graduating from Northwestern, Ware headed to Hollywood to write screenplays and Miller remained at the University. He became director of student affairs, and directed the Waa-Mu Show until 1975. Tom Roland succeeded Miller as the second director of the Waa-Mu productions in 1976.

For the past seven years, Waa-Mu has been directed by Dominic Missimi, associate professor of theatre and director of the Music Theatre Program at Northwestern. Although Waa-Mu is a major student performed and organized show, Missimi likes to assemble an impressive staff of award-winning collaborators for the annual production in order to give the students involved an opportunity to work with prominent music theater experts, as well as provide the audience with a polished production.

Waa-Mu went on hiatus during the World War II years, but was re-launched in 1946 with a show that featured two students who went on to become television and stage comedy legends, Paul Lynde (’48) and Charlotte Rae (’48). Rae used her last name Lubotsky when she was a student.

Warren Beatty (’59) donned a cowboy hat and a Native American headdress and buckskins for his stage appearances in the Silver Jubilee of Waa-Mu in 1956, prior to becoming a leading man in movies. In 1960, Ann-Margret Olson (’63) was a cast member in a Waa-Mu show entitled "Among Friends."

Occasionally, Waa-Mu has been performed off-campus. The show traveled to Chicago several times after its Evanston run. And renowned orchestra leader Fred Waring played original Waa-Mu songs on the radio in 1951.

In 1981, the 50th anniversary show spoofed the University’s history and reprised numbers from previous "Waa-Mu" productions.

Waa-Mu performances have been presented at Cahn Auditorium since 1940, the year that Scott Hall was completed. At the time, Cahn was considered one of the best-equipped theaters in the Midwest.

The Waa-Mu Show continues to serve as an important launching pad for many of the University’s most talented performers. Many former Waa-Mu performers have gone on to successful careers on Broadway and in Hollywood.

Seventy shows later, Waa-Mu is still billed as "the greatest college show in America," and it always draws large and loyal audiences.

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Monica Metzler, Director. 847-491-1500; . Last revised 03/29/01.
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