Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Straight from Melbourne, the Spontaneous Broadway team have a talented impro cast and a good format that’s all set to give you an enjoyable evening.
There’s a lot of musical impro around at this year’s festival, so much so that it can be difficult to know which show will provide a high quality musical show that you can hardly believe is improvised, and which show will simply be a few people making up stuff on the spot with all the finesse and poetry of a primary school production, foolishly combined with a lewdness to rival a 4am stand-up set in strip club. No worries here however, as Spontaneous Broadway team have a successful format and accomplished cast all set to deliver high-class impro entertainment.
I’ve written before for FringeReview on the need for an original and exciting format when doing musical impro, and Spontaneous Broadway have certainly satisfied that requirement. Here’s how it works: the audience write down ideas for an original song title on slips of paper, these go into a bucket on the stage, and the Spontaneous Broadway team sift through the ideas with their thinking caps on; then, each member of the team pitches an idea for a musical based on a song title from the audience, and has to improvise that song from the musical; next the audience votes on which musical they would like to see, and the cast then create that musical, having to also work in the song that they originally improvised in the pitch. It’s a demanding format, but the cast are certainly up to the challenge, and importantly, their method has carefully allowed them the control to circumvent the ever-looming danger of impro: the descent into the unrelated ridiculous.
As well as this, there is an added original element, as each of the improvisers is also acting a character, who is improvising the scene. So we have the characters of a slightly past it Broadway star, a young starlet fresh from the (not quite) highest acting school, a Judi Dench style stage veteran, and an amateur dramatics enthusiast. These four are then guided by the watchful eye of ‘Randy Patinkin’, who directs the action and discards any scene which looks like it’s headed the wrong way.
These elements make for a great show. The night I saw it? We had the opening and closing night of the brand new musical: ‘The Climb’, in which rich lawyer Sandy, and young Denise (a well travelled Lancastrian convent run away) embarked on an adventure up Everest. There was plenty of comedy from some well characterised misfits, as well as the touching romantic duet ‘Singing in My Tent’ (that was skillfully reprised from the original pitch), culminating in mild peril and dramatic character transformation.
There are however some weakness. The small stage of the Spiegletent isn’t providing the ideal platform for the realisation of some of the more inventive ideas, and though pianist John Thorn provides wonderful spontaneous accompaniment to the show, he and the group’s drummer hardly amount to the ‘orchestra’ some members of the audience were expecting.
But nevertheless, Spontaneous Broadway provide a highly enjoyable example of what musical impro should be. Having seen a few impro groups who didn’t quite cut it this year, I can safely say that this is a refreshing group that is well worth catching.