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'Greatest College Show in America'

Waa-Mu kicks off with Dominic Missimi at the helm for the final time

April 22, 2010 | by Judy Moore
Video produced by Matt Paolelli and Erin White

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University's 79th Waa-Mu production marks the final time, after nearly 20 years, that "the greatest college show in America" will be directed by Joseph Jefferson Award-winning Northwestern theater faculty member Dominic Missimi.

Missimi, who is retiring from the University in June, has directed Waa-Mu for the past 17 years, working all that time with his wife Nancy Missimi, a professional costume designer, who has designed the show's costumes. Both will be inducted into the Waa-Mu Hall of Fame this spring for their many years of service to the show.

"Keeping Time," the 2010 Waa-Mu production, takes audiences on an irreverent journey through the annals of history. Performances will take place at 8 p.m. Friday, April 30; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, May 1; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 2; 8 p.m. Thursday, May 6; 8 p.m. Friday, May 7; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, May 8; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 9, at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St., on the University's Evanston campus.

With a cast of more than 50 Northwestern students, Waa-Mu is written, composed, performed, choreographed and presented by undergraduates. The annual show is known for its lavish sets, elaborate Broadway-style chorus numbers and budding talent. "Keeping Time" is a time-traveling showcase of song, dance and humor depicting historical events and characters. It will include musical tributes to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' black and white film days and to Michael Jackson.

"Keeping Time" uses clocks and plays off phrases about time -- from a song about a Vietnam soldier and his young love back home called ‘Killing Time with You' to a final ensemble number titled "Take My Time," about contemplating the future.

This year, award-winning Chicago director and choreographer David H. Bell, a Northwestern theater faculty member, has staged a Waa-Mu Broadway-style song and dance number, "What the River Contains" about the movement West to pan for precious ore during the California Gold Rush.

Highlights include a comedic skit about George Washington's encounter with a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent while crossing the Delaware, and "Conqueror's Lament," a song in which Genghis Kahn, Napoleon and Caesar confess that their "true desire" is to dance as well as Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse.

The show also features serious sketches, including one written by a student about her unemployed grandfather during the Depression. "Put A Lantern On Your Fencepost" is a gospel-style song about the tribulations of fugitive American slaves "riding" the Underground Railroad. The song "Paris 1899" features an imaginary conversation between Polish-born physicist and chemist Marie Curie and French composer Maurice Ravel.

Bienen School of Music faculty members involved with Waa-Mu 2010 include Mallory Thompson, Northwestern's director of bands, who will conduct the student orchestra, and Ryan T. Nelson, the show's music director. Cindy Gold, a theater department faculty member, is working with Missimi as sketch director.

In reflecting on the culmination of his nearly two decade Waa-Mu involvement, Missimi says he has always loved the process of the show. "It's about starting out with a paragraph and watching it develop. Our students are serious about music theater and they know how to get things done. I have tears in my eyes at the final dress rehearsal because I am always so proud of what the students have accomplished."

Waa-Mu History

Waa-Mu's quirky name stands for the two campus organizations that banded together to present the first show in 1929 -- the Women's Athletic Association (W.A.A.) and the Men's Union (M.U.).

Since then, Waa-Mu has become a launching pad for young theatrical talent. Famous Waa-Mu alumni include actor, director, producer and screen writer Warren Beatty; comedian Paul Lynde; writer and Broadway critic Walter Kerr; movie, television and theater actor Gregg Edelman; actress Cloris Leachman; Broadway actor Brian d'Arcy James; actress, singer, dancer and Miss America 1998 Kate Shindle; singer and Broadway actress Heather Headley; and countless others.

Single tickets for Waa-Mu are $28 (tier one) to $21 (tier two) for the general public; $17 for seniors and Northwestern University faculty and staff and area educators and administrators; and $11 for full-time students and children. Tickets may be purchased through the TIC Box Office at (847) 491-7282 or online at www.tic.northwestern.edu.

Topics: Campus Life