Winter 2011

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Campus Life
A promo photo from the 1982 Dolphin Show production of Little Me. From left, Richard Samson (C83) as Bennie, Michelle Nicastro (C82) as Young Belle and Eric Gilliland (C84) as Bernie. Photo by Mike Heeger (WCAS82)/Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives

Then: A Big Splash

The Dolphin Show started as a waterborne, carnival-like fundraiser and became one of the largest student-produced musicals in the country, one that floated the careers of stars such as David Schwimmer (C88) and former Miss America Kate Shindle (C98).

The first shows took place in the pool when the Dolphin Club, a Northwestern men’s swim team that was campaigning to compete in Florida, launched its first fundraiser in 1940. After a brief wartime hiatus, the women’s water ballet team jumped in to help revive the show in 1944, when proceeds from the performance went to war bonds.

By 1948 audiences gathered in Patten Gymnasium for a poolside musical-comedy revue. Over time, show organizers began adapting famous musicals for the water.

The shows garnered attention from far beyond the Northwestern campus. In 1950 the show sold more than 3,000 tickets for its seven performances, and the 1951 adaptation of Jambalaya was featured in Life magazine. Students from across the University joined the effort, from sorority members who served as ushers to engineers who crafted backdrops. Dolphin Show participants took pride in their big-budget production, especially after the show cut its ties to the Dolphin Club in 1963.

In 1970 the show moved to dry land and its current home in Cahn Auditorium. Through the years, it has continued to grow.

“The reason that the Dolphin Show has stood the test of time is because it really is about building a community and working together,” says Lucas McMahon, a School of Communication senior from Boston and co-producer of the 2012 show, 42nd Street. “It’s also about bringing the best talents of Northwestern together to create a professional-quality production.”

On Jan. 20–28, the Dolphin Show will present five performances of 42nd Street at Cahn Auditorium.