On the heels of the Academy Awards, one might ask oneself "what truly makes for a memorable awards ceremony?" The answer is quite simply: improvisation.
By improvisation I don't mean a nimble host who can navigate past an ungainly acceptance speech or an awkward award presentation. I am referring to the kind of improvisation where you pretty much make up the whole thing on the spot.
This challenging and rare skill is on full display at Broadway's Next H!t Musical, performing at The Triad on West 72nd Street. Broadway's Next H!t Musical has as its subtitle "New York City's Improvised Musical," but that doesn't fully encompass the marvelous shenanigans that go on here.
The premise of the show is that you are an invited guest to the "highlight" of the awards season where this year's best new musical will be crowned. The evening features a host, Greg Triggs, who is delightfully smarmy and unctuous in his understatedly bedazzled tuxedo. The awards are both presented and accepted by a cast of five nimbly-minded performers and accompanied, at the performance I attended, by the equally nimble guest pianist Gary Adler (These duties are usually handled by Eric March and Andrew Resnick).
What makes the show so jaw-droppingly ballsy is that the four musicals that you are treated to excerpts from, and eventually a full rendition of the winning entry, are made up completely on the spot by the cast based on suggestions from the audience.
Here's how it works: You arrive and are handed a program as well as a business-size card on which to write your suggestion of a song title from an imaginary musical show (my contributions was "My Love is a Blister). These are collected and take onto the stage. Mr. Triggs then makes his appearance and sets the tone with a charmingly over-the-top entrance and welcome to the audience. Without further ado, a performer is called to the stage, deftly plucks a card from the glass bowl of potential songs and announces the name of the song that will now be showcased. The performer then instantly concocts the name of the musical that the song was from and launches into a rendition of said song, often with an accompanying scene that frames it. Other performers pop onto the stage to assist where needed.
The songs that were offered on the night I attended were, in order:
"Moo Moo Moo" from Moosical
"Kiss Me Now And Then" from The Time Traveler's Mistress
"Accountants Give Great Returns" from Liberal Arts Major! and
"Girl Fight With Disco Dust" from The Amish Land.
Keep in mind that not only did the performers have to make up the lyrics to the song on the spot, the pianist was also completely making up the tune as he went along, so the performers were making up both words and music in tandem with the accompanist. The creative coordination that is involved in this is mind-boggling.
The winning entry, based on audience applause after all four songs had been performed, ended up being "Girl Fight With Disco Dust" from The Amish Land. After a brief comic bit by the master of ceremonies, the cast returned to the stage and presented the full musical version of the winning show in its entirety. This consisted of about five additional songs, once again conjured up by the cast and accompanist on the fly, as well as connecting scenes that laid out the delightfully absurd story.
The cast on the evening I attended was composed of Kobi Libii, Deb Rabbai, Stefan Schick, Rob Schiffman and Rebecca Vigil. Robert Z. Grant is also listed, but was not in attendance that evening. All are talented and very funny improvisational performers, although the women were a bit more vocally skilled than the men. Mr. Triggs was also a delight and demonstrated his own improvisational chops during the evening as he interacted with the audience. The show is produced by the clever cabal of Ralph Buckley, Ms. Rabbai, Mr. Schiffman and Mr. Triggs.
The performance schedule is usually every Thursday evening, although the schedule is a bit erratic, so make sure to check their website at http://www.broadwaysnextmusical.com/ for proper dates and times. The site also includes a gallery of past "winning" musicals with clever Playbill covers and their accompanying synposis that gives you a small taste of the madness. To order tickets, go to http://www.smarttix.com/.
Performances are at The Triad upstairs at 158 West 72nd Street at 9 pm. Be advised that there is a two drink minimum in addition to the ticket price. If you are a fan of improv, musicals, or just a fun and exhilarating night out, have a go at Broadway's Next H!t Musical.