Review by Jack Mitchell
I take my hat off to improvisers of any kind, and comedy troupe Unplanned Melodies takes it up a notch by improvising not just scenes, but with their current show Improvageddon! come up with an entirely original musical on the spot. With only one show remaining for their appearance at this year’s Sydney Fringe Festival (this Friday September 16), you should snap up a ticket quickly.
Unplanned Melodies consists of five actors accompanied by pianist Benny Davis, who take their cues from audience suggestions at the start of the show. The promising subjects of this particular musical were ‘violin’ and ‘being alone’, and I must say I did not envy the actors in their task.
This hour-long spontaneous musical did not disappoint, with love triangles, toilet cubicles and killer violins all playing crucial roles in this unique story. A feature I notice in some scripted musicals is that the dialogue in between songs can feel a little overbearing in its attempts to match the overtness of the music. What I enjoyed about Unplanned Melodies’ musical was the way the actors had to respond in the moment, particularly during or after songs had been sung. The improvised element means, of course, that anything can happen, and it was a joy to watch the actors respond instinctively with dialogue to songs performed in a tongue-in-cheek, overwrought musical theatre style. These were the moments that had me laughing the most.
This is not to say that the group does not have their structure down pat. Unplanned Melodies take Armageddon as their theme for this sequence of shows, and uses the audience prompts to fill in the details. There was an air of professionalism with which the performers moved between scenes and constructed character arcs that fit within the outlandish narrative. Something that is also always enjoyable to watch is improvisers putting the onus of exposition or immense detail onto their fellow actors. For example, haikus played a central role in the musical tonight, and there was more than one moment in which one actor relished the opportunity to make their onstage partner construct one on the spot. Special congratulations must go to Davis, who responded seamlessly to the actors’ movements and narrative suggestions in song form, and bravely stomached being forced to perform some Beyonce songs on cue at his piano.
This is a well-oiled comedy machine that knows how to take advantage of the audience’s expectations of both improvisation and musical theatre, bringing them together in an impressive and delightfully self-aware manner. I would recommend this for an exciting night at the theatre.
Improvageddon! plays until Friday September 16th at The Factory Theatre.