Star Trek-inspired improv delivers an “engaging” show for Toronto audiences
Around this time last year, I had never seen a single episode of Star Trek, though as a small child, I’d humoured my friend’s request that I be Dr. Crusher in our playground games. I had no idea what the fuss was about. Now, I’m four episodes away from the end of The Next Generation, having spent more obsessive time with the good doctor, Captain Picard, and Lt. Commander Data than I’d care to admit. To mitigate the horror of finishing the series, I was eager to watch The Dandies perform their latest installment of Holodeck Follies, an improvised Star Trek adventure with songs and special guests.
The main question with themed improvisation is always, “do I need to be familiar with the source?” Here, it is not strictly necessary, but it certainly helps a great deal. You can enjoy the made-up space adventures of the “USS Albatross” on their own, but the references, of which there are many, add enjoyment to the general mishaps of the crew.
The improv was, as improv often is, sometimes extremely rocky but ultimately rewarding, as the Federation was steered by audience suggestion to a standoff with the Cardassians (yes, there was the occasional “Kardashian” joke). Standout bits included an instructional standoff with various redshirts as they learned to handle their phasers, whether or not they were filled with candy, and Maddox Campbell’s various stints as the Irish-accented O’Malley/O’Reilly/O’Something transporter chief analogue. Jane Luk, as “Waxy Troi,” Lwaxana’s empathic healer niece, had some nice moments where she “felt” medical textbooks rather than actually reading them, to the chagrin of the Albatross’ “real” doctor.
The second act of the “episode” suffered a little from the lack of Dale Wells’ Captain Tachyon Field, but the actors persevered. The main disappointment was the singing aspect; Jason Zinger on keyboard provided atmospheric incidental music, but only two songs materialized, and neither quite achieved liftoff.
The costumes were simple but effective, easily recognizable, with the colourblocked sweater belonging to not-yet-cadet “Weasley Pincher” a particular favourite.
The featured guest artists took up the bulk of the show (in fact, the second half of the “episode” seemed rushed), but were all entertaining diversions from the main event.
The Rocket Scientists (Ephraim Ellis, Kevin MacNeil, Chris Small and absent member Brandon Hackett) delivered a solidly written series of sketches involving a taped children show intro gone profanely wrong, a confessional moment engineered by Ben and Jerry’s, and the question of whether or not everyone’s favourite Star Trek android has emotions or not. The group has an easy chemistry and excellent timing, but luckily their placement in the evening’s events complemented rather than impinged on the broader, more shambolic vibe of the surrounding improvisation.
Elizabeth Rose Morriss sang three musical theatre songs that were very tenuously but sweetly connected to Trek-type themes. Her voice was expressive and effectively told the story of her chosen songs, whether she was singing about penguins or converting to the Jewish experience.
Ron Sparks, “Master of Comedy,” got abundant laughs by prodding the schism between Star Wars and Star Trek fans. Essentially, his set was “about nothing,” but he managed to draw a large crowd reaction from his so-bad-they’re-good Star Trek name puns and his incredulity that someone in the audience might have the very difficult to pronounce name of “Chris.” Overall, his set was entertaining to diminishing returns, going to the “self-deprecation” well more often than necessary, but maintaining our interest with phaser blast sound effects serving as rim-shots.
The point of the Holodeck on Star Trek is that we love it even though it constantly malfunctions. Despite some turbulence on the bridge, The Dandies delivered a show that could be described as “engaging.” If you’re a Star Trek fan, they have a show at Fan Expo tonight (Thursday, September 3rd) at 8pm, and a standing date at the Social Capital Theatre the first Wednesday of every month. Make it so.
Photo of The Dandies provided by the company