Boston’s Unscripted Music Project is an Improvised Musical Theatre Comedy Show (4 stars)
by Johnny Monsarrat
Boston’s Unscripted Music Project, presented by Catalyst Comedy, plays Saturdays at the Davis Square Theatre in Somerville, soon to be renamed the Rockwell. See www.therockwell.org.
Improvisational comedy is different. While it doesn’t consistently reach the heights of pre-written sketch comedy or standup, there’s great joy in rooting for the cast as they try to make it up on the fly. Their failings and struggling on stage can be as hilarious as the comical lines and scenes they come up with. But to bring the empathy of the audience, they have to make us feel that they really are improvising, not just working from a paint-by-the-numbers template or hidden formula.
Boston’s Unscripted Music Project achieves that purity, being true to the ideals of its genre. Taking one suggestion from the audience, they then improvise an entire musical theatre show, from start to finish. The cast works hard enough that you can see the gears spinning in their heads, and it’s clear that their songs are completely made up, not based on existing show tunes or set structure. The show features five performers in everyday clothing, a live keyboardist, and a lighting and sound tech. The show is produced by Pablo Rojas, the founder of Catalyst Comedy.
Since every show will be different, it’s hard to predict what you’ll find. The show I saw was a comical wedding day where the bride and groom had the jitters about their big decision. The groom was worried that he’d only ever slept with one person, and the bride, well, she had the opposite problem.
The cast worked well together, without anyone trying to upstage the others. While they hunted to make sense of the plot, they filled in with physical comedy and strange mannerisms such as an Australian accent. Not everything worked — they never did manage to make the Australian Outback connect to the story — and some of the songs took a minute to get going, but they did manage to put together a story arc and a conclusion.
Every member of the cast was strong, with two that stood out especially in the performance I saw. MacMillan Leslie, who looks like Pinocchio who lost his marbles, brought a deviant energy to each scene, and took creative risks that paid off. He started each scene with confident amusement, which helped the audience find the humor even before it began. Misch Whitaker, who looks like a Powerpuff Girl who fantasizes about setting the world on fire just to watch it all burn, led the stitching together of the plot and some of the most creative twists. She had the biggest laugh line when she exclaimed, “I’m not a cum-covered burger!” You’ll just have to trust me: it made sense in context.
Kudos to Pat Parhiala, who introduced creepy finger puppets into the show in a way that led to the musical’s climatic song.
Misch Whitaker, the director and a cast member of Boston’s Unscripted Music Project, generously allowed an interview after the show.
Events INSIDER: How do you describe the show?
Misch Whitaker: It’s an improvised musical. It takes about an hour. It’s a comedic take on Broadway musicals.
Events INSIDER: It seems to be a very honest show. You don’t seem to use song templates, and don’t even use scene templates, where each scene moves the plot in a predetermined way. There’s really no structure, is there?
Misch Whitaker: There’s really not. We believe in group mind and we believe in trust. We believe that the musical is already out there. We just need to tap into it. In rehearsals we do practice song structure and genre. We practice archetypes, like hero vs. villain, or man vs. himself. All of those things we allow to trickle into our consciousness for the show, but we don’t limit ourselves to any one format or structure that we’ve practiced.
Events INSIDER: I was worried that the show would not have a story arc, until one scene where you inserted that brilliantly. I assume that you are hunting for that story arc on purpose?
Misch Whitaker: We do always shoot for a narrative. The way to see it is that the first three scenes, we refer to them as the tent poles. The first three scenes that can be set as close together or as far apart as possible, but in the fourth scene, you try to figure out why they are part of the same tent. So that’s the only structure, that in the fourth scene you explore why everything that’s came before is important.
Events INSIDER: And if there’s some aspect about one of the characters (such as a juggler) that lends itself to the final challenge (distracting the bad guy by juggling), that’s even better of course. You didn’t quite get there with tonight’s show.
Misch Whitaker: Right, and we’ve actually have some shows where none of us can believe how well the show’s opening foreshadows the show’s closing. We once accidentally created a show told completely in flashback. At the end of the show we repeated the opening number as the closing number and discovered the opening scene had been the ending scene the whole time, kind of like Citizen Kane.
Events INSIDER: Thank you.
Boston’s Unscripted Music Project is a safe bet for a fun night out. 4 stars!