At the beginning of a Songbuster – An Improvised Musical, one of the performers solicits a suggestion from an audience member for an exciting place where one meets people. The genius in the front row for the opening of Next Stage Theatre Festival offered: “ComicCon,” and we were off to the races. The absolutely hilarious and completely improvised races, through which we galloped for a very funny hour.
There’s no actual point to discussing or reviewing the show I saw, since it won’t bear much resemblance to the show you see (and you should). Instead, it’s worth talking about delightful music director Tom King and the multi-talented Songbuster ensemble.
King, behind the keyboard, drives the pace of the show, cuing in songs with an intro or a vamp. He’s obviously very familiar with the range and styles of each performer, and he delivers them into a song that can showcase their talents. I saw this show on my own nickel during Toronto Fringe Festival, and I was surprised and pleased with how deft his frames were, and how responsive to the characters. He may sit off to the side, but his work here is top-notch.
In general, the other players are interesting, frolicsome actors with a lot of verve and talent. There are some themes that repeat themselves in musicals, both improvised and scripted, and the cast generally has a strong handle on them. They’ve also got pretty good chops for turning a rousing tune into an all-cast number, which is always pleasing. Special shout-out on that to Tricia Black, who (and other talents) seems never to have met a song she couldn’t devise a backing vocal for.
Nicky Nasrallah, the force of nature behind Beyography, has joined the cast since I saw them last and his dance skills got a delightful workout onstage, along with those of Stephanie Malek (playing a young woman who refuses to follow the hallowed family tradition of salsa dancing, has a lesbian awakening instead, nearly joins her half-alien girlfriend on a trek to outer space to fight the Crystal Wars but instead remains on earth to take a supporting role in the wildly-popular sci-fi television show, Dr. Scattercat. Ahem.)
Nug Nahrgang delivers the goods in another version of his ongoing nice-guy-with-a-secret role, and Alexandra Hurley is such a delightfully weird weirdo with such relatable reasons for being as weird as she is. As always, Connor Thompson (the gangling nerdy one) and Ashley Comeau (the unrequited siren with the smokey alto) make such good choices, sending the plot in fascinating, fruitful directions.
The great thing about Songbuster is that it’s fun, freewheeling and fairly tight considering that everyone’s literally making it up as they go along. There are no more plot holes than the average episode of any modern television show, and this is a much better time.
- All Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets for Mainstage and Studio shows are $15 and $10 for Ante-chamber performances
- Showtimes and ticket information are available at fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/
Photo provided by the company.