Many people find improv — particularly in front of an audience — to be terrifying. An equally large number find singing in public to be just as daunting. To promise what Songbuster Musical does in their Toronto Fringe Festival show, Songbuster – An Improvised Musical, therefore, takes an enormous leap of faith: an hour-long musical, created and performed in real time at the Randolph Theatre, on the spot.
Well, in tonight’s improvised musical, a priest may have lost his faith, but I didn’t: an extremely talented cast of comedians and musicians largely delivered on their promise on opening (and closing) night.
Reviewing improv is always difficult: like the proverbial lightning in a bottle, inspiration will never strike the same way twice. The danger and the excitement lie in not knowing whether the show will soar or crash and burn on any given night.
The questions to ask, therefore, are: do the performers engage well with the form? Do they define characters clearly? Do they have a strong sense of humour, and a stronger sense of timing? And can they recover when things go a bit pear-shaped? The answer to all of these questions, for Songbuster, is yes.
The cast of Songbuster knows what it’s doing. The performers are seasoned, as they improvise musicals together every month at Bad Dog Theatre, and most have Second City or other sketch comedy experience. They create a show based on an audience-suggested event (a wedding, in this case). A warning: if you sit towards the front, you maybe be unwittingly chosen to kick-start the night (but not to sing).
There is a wide range of strengths here. To name a few: Ashley Comeau (on opening night, the mother of the bride) has a lovely, strong belt. Tricia Black did great character work as the evil, Ursula-esque wedding planner. Nug Nahrgang kept things on track as the no-nonsense straight man (tonight, a wedding photographer), with a look to the audience letting us know everyone’s aware this is ridiculous. Connor Thompson’s “cool priest” was wonderfully square, and Josh Murray is particularly good at wringing laughs from any awkward moments or lines that don’t land the first time. Every actor has his or her moment.
What makes the evening particularly effective is some well-placed callbacks to earlier numbers and the ability to occasionally move into more complex harmonies and layered counterpoint. This keeps things from getting stale, particularly after the strong opening number (“I Do…But Maybe I Don’t”), and after ideas start to flag a bit.
Is there the occasional false start? Did a few plot threads get frustratingly close to tying together only to be left unspooled? Did a few resolutions come out of nowhere? Sure, but that’s been the case since Gilbert and Sullivan. Saddle up your Sondheim, or unleash your inner Mamma Mia and “Take A Chance” on Songbuster; it may have the shortest opening-to-closing in town every night, but it’s still probably better than the musical version of Carrie.
- Songbuster – An Improvised Musical plays at the Randolph Theatre. (736 Bathurst St)
- Tickets are $12 at the door and in advance, and can be bought online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warning: Mature Language.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a ramp at the building’s northwest corner. Please arrive early and ask to speak with the House Manager.
- Wednesday June 29th, 10:00 pm
- Saturday July 2nd, 08:00 pm
- Monday July 4th, 02:30 pm
- Tuesday July 5th, 08:30 pm
- Friday July 8th, 05:45 pm
- Saturday July 9th, 08:00 pm
- Sunday July 10th, 01:45 pm
Photo of Josh Murray, Alexandra Hurley, Ashley Comeau, Stephanie Malek, Connor Thompson, Tricia Black, Kristian Bruun, Matty Burns and Nug Nahrgang by Connor Low