This is how Musical! the Musical works: One of the performers, acting as a kind of emcee, asks the audience for a story suggestion based on a movie, piece of literature, fairy tale, dinner table gossip--whatever comes to hand and mind. Then a few notes of music are plunked on the piano, again by an audience member, and this becomes the theme for the opening overture.
Out of these minimal materials, the cast improvises a full-length, two-act musical in modern Broadway style. (Previous incarnations have included Godfather! the Musical and Edward Scissorhands! the Musical.) And all this is done without a hint of a safety net--no scripts, no sheet music, no choreographer, no Regis Philbin-style lifelines--which, incidentally, saves on overhead and keeps the ticket prices reasonable.
What issues forth is 90 minutes of fun and frolic, never dull, and occasionally spiked with brilliance and jaw-dropping amazement. I happened to catch Ghostbusters! the Musical, which featured a lament ("Science Is Work, It Isn't Fun," in which one singer rhymed "leeches" with "creatures" without batting an eyelash), a hard-rock song by an EPA administrator ("Don't Mess With The EPA"), a tender ballad about loss and longing ("Nothing Is Left"), a bluesy seduction number ("How Long You Been Bustin'?"), an anthem about catching ghosts ("Ghost Portal," with the immortal "No time to chortle,"), and a final anthem as the Busters triumph and everyone realizes that their deepest desires were "Always Here."
Musical had its start in 1991, when ImprovBoston premiered its first long-form, half-hour musical. In 1997, Nancy Walker, artistic director of ImprovBoston, moved to Chicago and soon after developed Musical! the Musical, expanding the length to two acts and modeling it specifically on modern Broadway trends.
Chicago provided a great laboratory in which to develop a show like this; it was already home to groups like the Free Associates (who have done literary spoofs of authors such as Charlotte Bronte, William Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams) and WNEP Theatre Foundation (with provocative pieces like My Mother Is a Fat Whore in New Jersey and their upcoming Postmortem, based on a daily obituary), who have pushed the boundaries of long-form improv into exciting territories. Musical continues this evolution, bringing it back to its birthplace for new adventures and possibilities.
Musical! the Musical will end its run at the Back Alley Theater in Inman Square at the end of April. In May, it moves to the 150-seat Works Theater in Davis Square, Somerville, with performances every Friday and Saturday from May 5 through 27. For more information you can visit their website at www.improvboston.com. If you are a fan of comedy and musical theater, see the show several times--it will always be different, and you will come away amazed and refreshed by the ingenuity and audacity of this talented company.
Michael Bettencourt is a playwright. He has had an array of productions in Chicago (The Most Dangerous Woman in America), New York (The Greed Gene, How Do You Like Your Blue-eyed Boy), and Boston (Pictures at an Exhibition, Shrapnel: An Evening of Michael Bettencourt). He is currently working on theater for children.