Most of us are familiar with how improvisational comedy works and how people who are good at it can take silly suggestions from an audience and make up a skit on the spot. The show at the Marie W. Heider Center for the Arts in West Salem on Jan. 20, however, takes that premise one giant step further.
Members of the cast for Broadway’s Next Hit Musical will somehow create a full-fledged Broadway musical on the spot from imagined songs suggested only moments before by the audience. Entertainment-wise, that would seem a nearly impossible task, but as the New York Post has observed, this show has “a spontaneity, wit and inventiveness that must be seen to be believed.” Even the New York Times called the show “hilarious.”
According to Greg Triggs, the evening’s emcee and the show’s co-producer, his New York-based improv comedians and musicians are more than up to the challenge of inventing a musical comedy out of thin air.
“In my biased opinion, we have some of the strongest improvisational talent working in the entire country,” Trigg said.
The show begins with the “Phony Awards” (a takeoff on Broadway’s Tony Awards). The actors present four songs based on audience suggestions, the sillier the better. Songs suggested and actually performed for previous shows had titles like “I Want Grass with My Sandwich,” “Hiccup, Buttercup” and “I Live in My Yoga Pants.”
The audience will vote for its favorite song and then, during the second half of the show, the cast will build upon that song to create a full-blown improvised musical complete with memorable characters, witty dialogue and plenty of plot twists. According to Triggs, every show is completely new and different, and his troupe of improv comedians is filled with “triple threats” who — besides being able to think on their feet — can act, sing and dance.
Being able to think on one’s feet is, of course, a critical skill for improv comedians, but it also holds true for the musical accompaniment as well. Trigg explained that the piano player has to be very good at creating songs on the spot yet at the same time staying attuned to where the laughs are.
“The music has to have just the right tone,” Triggs said. “Our musical directors are excellent.”
All of this makes for a fast-paced 90-minute show. “It’s fun. It’s really smart and really accessible,” Trigg said. “The show is a wonderful combination of standup comedy, live music, and both short-form and long-form improvisation.”
Although the cast typically plays venues around Manhattan, such as the Tribeca Film Festival or the New York Music Theater Festival, they also get out on the road occasionally. Triggs, who grew up in Madison, said that towns like West Salem are his favorite places to play because the audiences aren’t as jaded as they can be in a big city.
“The audiences are smart and appreciative,” he said. “When something like this come to town there’s a feeling of it being special. I’ve also got a ton of friends coming who I grew up with or went to church camp with as a kid. I love the La Crosse area and the bluffs, so we’re really looking forward to this show.”
On a final note, Triggs stressed that the evening’s entertainment is appropriate for the entire family. “Kids can come along, too,” he said.