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|A CurtainUp Review
By Brad Bradley
Spontaneous Broadway is the final production the 20th anniversary season of the remarkably adept and talented team of players known as Freestyle Repertory Theatre. Having enthusiastically reviewed their TheaterSports [see link], I was looking forward to seeing this troupe again, and was delighted to find all its familiar players present. Their inventiveness and general appeal remain stellar.
The concept of the performance begins at an environment somewhere between a backers’ audition and a piano-centered theatrical cocktail party in which the cast tests out supposed great songs from assorted old shows as drawn from a fishbowl atop the piano. These songs are in fact impromptu inventions, putting an extraordinary burden of creativity on both the cast and their pianist Benjamin Toth. As is the nature of improvisational theater, every performance has different characters, stories, and scripts; however, with musical material, the obstacles to success seem to be considerably higher than otherwise.
On my night of attendance, songs included "Cheap is Good, But Free is Better" and " Turkey in the Rough." After a full round of such imagined old favorites, the audience was asked to choose from the shows represented a favorite which would be performed in its entirety after a break. The audience choice was "Boys, Boys, Boys", its heroine’s lament “"Rick and Robbie" already having been heard in the songfest.
This necessarily unrehearsed show offered a credible, if grimly melodramatic, plot about a teenage girl unable to either control her libido or find compatibility with her stressed and apparently divorced mother. The girl leaves home, and almost immediately is becomes what once was called "a lady of the evening." In some respects, the show seemed to parallel an actual Broadway show of some success, Cy Coleman’s T he Life, which won awards a few seasons back.
Unlike many of Freestyle’s efforts, the concept of the second half of Spontaneous Broadway requires the improvisations to sustain a story and its characters for close to an hour rather than only a few minutes, and the material flags as a result. Another challenge that performers rarely can meet at consistently high levels involves the requisite songs, which, after all, benefit from both agile and melodic voices (too often not the case here). And when rhyme and tunefulness expire, the songs become regrettable. While such musical challenges sometimes are unfulfilled even in shows with months of gestation rather than moments, here these losses seriously weaken the fun of the occasion (a notable value of this company’s usual work). Yet composer/pianist Toth is more than up to his part of the challenge, and, during the songs, he often became the main attraction. Watching his dexterous fingers and animated face and hearing his piano were consistent pleasures.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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