Audience-inspired improv

Musical made up on the spot ensures a different show every time

Contributing writerJanuary 4, 2013 

“Broadway’s Next Hit Musical” is stopping at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts this weekend.

No one knows what it will be about, but one thing is for sure: It will be completely different tonight than it will be Saturday.

That’s right: This is not your typical Broadway traveling show. It’s a completely improvised evening that begins with audiences suggesting titles for songs from musicals nominated for the Broadway’s Next Hit Musical Award. The cast then performs those songs, and the audience chooses its favorite.

In the second part of the show, the improvisers perform the entire musical – all made up on the spot. (There’s not even an intermission to give them time to plan.)

“It just can go so many different places,” said Greg Triggs, who plays the host of the mock awards show that opens the evening.

The show – which tours with its original cast of improvisers, including the pianist who improvises all the tunes – has garnered critical acclaim from far and wide.

“The score was at least as good as several cast albums from actual shows,” Steve Weinstein wrote in a March 2011 review for Edge New York (edgenewyork.com). He saw the cast create a musical called “Eye-Magination.” “Oh, and if that wasn’t enough ... the pianist improvised a complex prelude composed of eye references, songs like ‘I Can See for Miles’ and ‘I Can See Clearly Now.’”

Of course, audience members have a widely varying idea of what song titles would be funny.

“There are people who come to improv shows to try to challenge the actors, and I appreciate that, although sometimes the best things come from simple suggestions,” Triggs said. “We’ve gotten our share of titles in foreign languages or just a string of nonsense syllables, and that’s led us to some unexpected choices.”

He said the improvisers go with what they are given, though – unless a suggestion is completely out-of-line for the audience, in which case it can be tossed back and replaced by another.

“It’s the audience’s show after all,” he said. “We’re just kind of the vessels that it goes through. You have to be fatalistic in improv. I’m not going to waste time or energy judging the idea.

“I like to say to the audience that if the show isn’t funny, it really is their fault,” he said, laughing. “I don’t totally believe that, obviously, but I think the audience should be proud. If they are enjoying the show, it’s because they’ve inspired a wonderful show.”

That inspiration doesn’t come just from the song titles. The show offers other opportunities for audience interaction, and the cast also finds that every audience inspires different kinds of musicals.

“This year, we’ve gone to I believe 14 different states,” Triggs said in a December phone interview. “Every audience has its own flavor or its own flair, and its super-fun for us to work with that. An audience in Olympia is going to be very different from an audience in Palm Beach (Fla.).

“We try to research the city before we get there to find out some of the ins and outs and the history of the place,” he said. “Every town has some quirk.”

He said the improvisers (there are eight in the core group, of whom seven will be in the Olympia shows) relish the challenge of making all different kinds of people laugh. (The show is appropriate for all ages.)

“One of the things that attracts people to improv is they want to confront different ideas and play different situations and different kinds of characters,” he said. ‘Broadway’s Next Hit Musical’

When: 7:30 tonight and Saturday

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

Tickets: $18-$26 for adults; $16-$23 for students, seniors and military; $9-$13 for youth

More information: 360-753-8586, olytix.org

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