Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.). Waa-Mu Show
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 since 1929. The goal of the annual show is to celebrate all the aspects of musical theater and highlight the talents of undergraduate student performers.
In 1929, as a senior, Northwestern student Joseph W. Miller and his classmate Darrell Ware wrote the script and staged the college musical comedy that became “The Waa-Mu Show,” the first coeducational college musical show. Waa-Mu was a combined production of the Women’s Athletic Association (WAA) and the Men’s Union (MU.) The WAA” had been staging popular all-female musical comedies since 1912; the “MU” had presented less successful all-male comic operas for a number of years. Both men’s and women’s shows had been losing money and Miller and Ware raised $1,200 by borrowing $5 a piece from interested students to finance the first show.
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 revue entitled “It Goes to Show.” Kerr eventually became a theatre critic for the New York Times. Famous personalities who have participated in past Waa-Mu shows have included Claude Atkins, Warren Beatty, Karen Black, Nancy Dussault, Sheldon Harnick, Heather Headley, Carol Lawrence, Cloris Leachman, Paul Lynde, Ann-Margaret, Charlotte Rae, Tony Randall, and former Miss America Kate Shindle.
After graduating in 1929, Joe Miller stayed at Northwestern to do graduate work in personnel administration, and Darrell Ware headed to Hollywood to write screenplays. In 1931 Northwestern president Walter Dill Scott offered Miller a position on the university’s staff as Freshman Advisor and Waa-Mu Director. Waa-Mu went on hiatus during the World War II years, but was re-launched in 1946. Miller directed the Waa-Mu Show until 1975; his last show was “Quick Change.” He retired on August 31, 1975 and died in 1979. Tom Roland succeeded Miller as the second director of the Waa-Mu productions in 1976.
The Waa-Mu Show continues to serve as an important launching pad for many of the University’s most talented performers, and is still billed as “the greatest college show in America,” drawing large and loyal audiences.
--Text adapted from “Waa-Mu: Northwestern’s long-running version of Star Search,” by Judy Moore, Northwestern Observer (“Historic Moments” series) v. 16, no. 21, March 29, 2001.
Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:
Sheldon Harnick is a lyricist of numerous musical productions performed at broadway and other musical theatres and operas. As a major in violin at NU School of Music he began writing lyrics for the Waa-Mu show. In 1960 he won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1993. He lives with his wife in New York City.
The Joe Miller Papers are contained in five boxes and span the years 1924-1979. The collection contains biographical information, materials relating to his early life in Ottumwa, Iowa, and two important events in his Northwestern career: the 25th Waa-Mu show in 1956, and Miller's retirement in 1975. Two scrapbooks complete the collection.