After the lights in Cahn Auditorium darkened, Communication third-year Matheus Barbee’s voice came over the PA system saying, “Please put your phones on airplane mode,” before the overture flew us into the world of Romance en Route.
The musical follows six romantics as they find love – and what they really want – in Paris, the city of lights. The show starts with Xander (Oliver Tam ‘26) and Eve (Anna Rosenthal ‘24) flying from Chicago to Paris to meet their significant others, Lexi (Sophie Liu David ‘25) and Jenna (Sami DeVries ‘23), who work at the same fashion company. Somehow thrown in the mix, their flight attendant, Tristan (Matheus Barbee ‘24), finds himself staying in Paris at the same hotel as them with cynical hotel concierge Matthieu (Anand Choudhary ‘26). During the two-hour run-time, their lives become intertwined in more ways than one….
Does this not scream rom-com? Before coming to the show, I was already taken back to the early-2000s rom-coms with the poster. The differing poses, blank white background and props lean into cliché character tropes that weave their way into the show: The workaholic. The nerd. The it-girl. The optimist. The dreamer. The cynic.
The Waa-Mu Show is one of the oldest theatrical traditions on Northwestern’s campus, despite no one knowing how to say it correctly (pronounced “mew,” not “moo”). Every Winter Quarter, students come together to write the plot, music and lyrics for the show, which premieres in the Spring. This year, more than 25 people are credited for team music and 24 are credited for team writing in the program – and that is only a fraction of the people involved.
I think Romance en Route adds a good balance to the theater productions that have recently been on campus. Where some shows like The White in His Eye dealt with heavy, even-traumatic topics, this one is fun and aware of its predictability. The opening song “Making Connections” immediately sets the tone of the show with its upbeat temp, dispelling my assumption that the songs would lead more towards the style of Golden Age musicals (like The Sound of Music or Carousel). Other songs like “Hôtel de Fleur” and “Paris Your Music is Magic to Me” keep the light-hearted feeling going, which makes you wonder: Have I heard this before?
The playfulness of the show invited audience reactions, with one audience member gasping after a predictable moment and then immediately saying, “I don’t know why I just gasped.” I too found myself audibly reacting with an “oh” to plot points that took me by surprise, but I think that had to do with the pacing.
In true rom-com fashion, everything happened in the course of 3 days – and the show certainly felt like it. From the fast, snappy music to the sudden character shifts, everything felt rushed. Even ballads like “Fleur-de-lis” and “Playing Pretend” could not slow the pace of the show down. But, I guess it was only delivering on its title: It definitely was en route.
Outside of the pacing, the other production elements helped construct a Parisian atmosphere. The set was beautiful and I thought the muted colors allowed the performances and colorful costumes to pop. Even though I was distracted by the seats from the plane being re-used for the hotel, the mobility of the set pieces made scene transitions smooth and unexpected, as pieces were re-purposed by changing lighting or by simply turning it around.
The lighting and sound worked well together to create an atmosphere that transcended the stage. With most of the songs ending with a button, a final note with no fade, the lights hit the ending pose at the same time. There were also some clever moments where lights mimicked a selfie being taken on stage or the sound effects truly made scenes take flight. One minor annoyance was that some of the spotlights constantly moved on the actors, thus distracting from the performance.
Similar to the poster, I thought the costumes truly represented Americans in Paris. Jenna’s beret and the bubble-gum pink dress of the Intern (Sofi Pascua ‘25) reminded me of the series Emily in Paris and the titular francophile’s idealized vision of Paris. The color combinations also hint at who will end up together in the end, with certain pairings having a color that follows them throughout the show. More than just connecting the couples, some costumes added small funny moments: whether it be a very American-couple decked out in Chicago gear or Oliver Tam’s sweatshirt that had “Generic University” written across it.
With six main characters in an ensemble cast, each actor had to carve out space for themselves, and I feel that they all succeeded in doing so. It's easy for stereotypical characters to feel one-dimensional, but they all felt vibrant, striking a balance between comedy and vulnerability. I found myself enjoying the scenes with Barbee as Tristan and Choudhary as Matthieu the most. Their infectious chemistry and portrayal of the sunshine-grumpy dynamic made me smile. While the ensemble members were not the strongest dancers, I think they also helped to keep the energy up with their overall enthusiasm.
One thing that I did not like was the cramped staging of some of the scenes. As one pairing openly discussed another character, they would barely be a foot or two away from each other. All rom-coms carry a suspension of disbelief, but the proximity was something I could not ignore.
The collaborative aspect of Waa-Mu speaks to the communal aspect of theater, and the show did feel like it was written by multiple people. A few songs just felt out of place in the show and some characters did not have their issues fully resolved. The show was trying to give it that big bow where everything is fixed at the end and everyone gets what they want, but it felt too rushed and left me wanting to know more about moments that were abandoned.
But, that is the nature of rom-coms. While they may feel rushed or predictable, it is the joy you experience when watching love on the screen that keeps you coming back for more. Watching the cast give their all on stage and perform these bubbly, infectious songs made the show such a joy to watch. Audience members could not help but dance in their seats and cheer on these characters as they find love.
More than an enjoyable experience, the central message was not to get stuck in your ways. As director Johanna McKenzie Miller wrote in her director’s note, Romance en Route “is a story about being brave.” These six characters courageously make life decisions just over the course of three days, inspiring the audience to be brave and make a change.
Be sure to fall in love with Romance en Route this weekend on Friday (5/5), Saturday (5/6) at 7:30pm and a final performance on Sunday (5/7) at 2pm.