The 91st annual Waa-Mu Show, A Peculiar Inheritance, opened to a vocal and enthusiastic crowd on Friday evening, April 29, at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium. Directed by Johanna McKenzie Miller and supported by co-chairs Daniel Maton and Madeline Oberle, the show is fun, funny and clever.
The show features a chorus line, tango dancing and tap dancing while clocking in at about two hours including intermission, so the dialogue and action move along very efficiently. A 14-piece orchestra accompanies each of the 17 original songs.
A dramatic overture reminiscent of old Hollywood glamor commands attention and draws the audience to the opening scene. The setting of the show is the living room of the Beaucourt family. The head of the family, Archibald, has recently passed away. His wife invites a list of family and friends to their home to celebrate Archibald’s life and hear a letter he has written to the group. Archibald was a watchmaker and the family’s fortune stems from the Beaucourt Watch Company – controlling shares of which are the ultimate prize of a treasure hunt, which unbeknownst to the guests, has been organized by the deceased host. He was a lover of games, puzzles and tricks, and this soirée his is last laugh.
As the guests arrive, they are introduced to the room (and the audience) by one of several uniformed staff people, who also serve as both the chorus and guide to the action taking place on stage. This also introduces a class element to the setting. As per usual for uniformed people everywhere, they are nearly invisible to those whom they are serving, a foil that proves useful once the game begins. The host’s instructions dictate that the key (to the safe) they seek must be found by midnight; there is no time to waste.
The arc of the storyline is inventive and winning with an unexpected twist. The cast is terrific as they sing, dance and act with spirit and believability. The nearly two dozen members of the supporting cast masquerading as waiters and butlers are delightfully comical. Their kick line à la A Chorus Line added the right dose of levity to the macabre game they are observing.
Each of the 10 primary characters gets center stage at some point during the show, and the songs that involve the entire cast are rousing. Their joy at being back at Cahn, on stage in front of a live, masked audience, infuses the show.
Three of the leads are especially outstanding: Meghan Altemose as Quinn, Clair Guthrie as Charlie and Rinn Maldonado as Cassie. Their characters could not be more different, but each actor nails her role perfectly. Pay attention when they step up for their solos. They are riveting. Altemose brings innocence, strength and acceptance of her character’s situation, and her voice in “Piece of the Puzzle” and “Where’s the Fire” will break your heart. Guthrie’s character is a tough-talking company executive, which she fills with just the right amount of bluster, swagger and strong-armed negotiating tactics. Her heartfelt solos, “Burn It Down” and “My Fair Share,” could be anthems for disgruntled workers everywhere. Maldonado steals every scene she is in as she sings, dances and acts out with abandon and not one scintilla of fear. Her solo, “My Time to Shine,” could not be more aptly named – plus the lyrics are hilarious. She has a great sense of physical comedy, too, giving Cassie the perfect amount of outlandishness.
There are aspects of the show reminiscent of the board game Clue. Dramatic tensions between the characters are resolved too easily. But those are small quibbles, details that do not detract from the overall energy and spirit of the show. The lighting, sound, choreography, sets, costumes and technology on and around the stage enhance the work of the actors while adding nuances to the theatergoer’s experience. It is a marvelous romp guaranteed to make even the most cynical curmudgeon crack a smile.
The show runs through Sunday, May 8. Tickets are available online and in person at the Wirtz Center Box Office, which is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Prices range between $10 and $30 before service charges (for online or telephone orders). Masks and proof of vaccination status or a negative COVID test within the past 48 hours are required. The Wirtz Center Box Office is in the Barber Theater lobby at 30 Arts Circle Drive on Northwestern’s campus.