Conceived and Directed by Matthew Loren Cohen
At UP Comedy Club
A charmingly goofy affair that’s actually better than some scripted musicals
Everyone knows this is an improv city, and I’ve seen my fair share, but this is actually the first time I’ve been called on to review an improv show. Gratefully for my first assignment as such, Best Musical! A Completely Improvised Musical Comedy is a real winner. Of course, due to the nature of improv, my recommendation cannot hold true for all situations—I can only recommend it highly on the strength of the particularly unique cast and creation I witnessed with a faith that creator and musical director Matthew Loren Cohen will maintain its quality in the spontaneity of each incarnation. That said, what I saw had me constantly giggling if not outright laughing for most of the two hours, which in the over-saturated land of improv, is a marvel in and of itself.
As set-ups go, this is one of the most difficult I’ve ever seen outside of an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? or Baby Wants Candy (also directed by Cohen). Eminently lovable host Mitchell Fain introduces us to The Besties—the fictional award show and musical revue—with a little stand-up and an overview of the events to come. Using audience-culled song titles (written on a slip in the program before the show), the four (of seven) repertory cast members on stage will be called up in turn to invent and then portray a scene from a musical using just the title pulled from a bowl. On my night, the audience’s song titles (and the fictional musicals) were:
“Failure is the Only Option” from the musical Factory performed by Matthew Van Colton with Sarah Reule and Andrew Knox; a Kinky Boots riff that looks at what would have happened if the protagonist gave up instead of trying.
“Chocolate Fantasy” from the musical What Comes After Dinner performed by Andrew Knox with Matthew Van Colton; a married man confesses his latent desire for a special kind of desert from his dinner guest.
“My Kitty Don’t Call Anymore” from the musical Lonely Hearts Club performed by Lauren Dowden with Andrew Knox and Sarah Reule; a support group of pathetic feline lovers reminisce about lost kitties.
“Bells Keep Falling On My Head” from the musical Nuns performed by Sarah Reule with Lauren Dowden; Sister Mary Catherine Catherine (not a typo) confesses she is torn between her duty and a desire to see the outside world.
After all four have their turn, it’s up to the audience to cheer for their favorite. Whatever gets the loudest votes is turned into a full-scale one-hour musical during the short intermission. The winner was What Comes After Dinner, a sort of ‘Brokeback Mountain meets dinner party’ affair starring two unhappy couples with the following song book invented on the fly. Here are the titles I gave them:
1. Dinner Party with Friends
2. Isn’t That Right?
3. Is He Feeling What I’m Feeling?
4. Extravagant People
5. Be My Guy
6. Tell Me More
7. Chocolate Fantasy
8. Too Many Years
9. We’re the Winners
Why tell you all this when your experience will be markedly different than mine in the details (but not quality)? Only to impart the total complexity of their achievement and the flavor—very clever with frequent hilarity, a nod to (and slight parody of) musicals with a just soupçon of naughtiness. There’s so much verve in the cast—with Cohen doing an astonishing job symbiotically linking to the on-stage antics with his piano—it’s hard not to feel spontaneous affection for these artisans of a difficult medium. Hurry on down, grab a drink, create a song title, and who knows? You might just be lucky enough to experience what only the Sondheim’s and Lloyd Webers of the world have—seeing your idea brought to life on stage, even if only for a night.
Reviewed by Clint May
Date Reviewed: October 16, 2013
At UP Comedy Club. Call 312.662.4562, tickets $20, Wednesdays 8pm. Running time 2 hours with 1 intermission. Through November 6, 2013.