Ensemble: Brian Agosta, Autumn Gillete, Corey O’Rourke, Sophie Shrand, Tim Stonelake, Christina Toohey, Marissa Wakuna, Misch Whitaker
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Cambridge) Boston’s Unscripted Musical Project at Improv Boston (formerly at Improv Asylum) is a good time. There’s cold beer and other beverages in the lobby. The seats are comfortable in the intimate mainstage theater. The cast will have you figuratively laughing your ass off in the first 10 minutes of the show. For these reasons and many more, B.U.M.P. is great – but it’s not for everyone.
The first half of the show is a cast warm-up for the audience’s benefit. The performers get to play around with form, structure and each other, The audience gets a peek into the process of musical improv. Musical Improv, like other types of non-musical improv, is created in the moment by the cast. When the performers are in their element, the actions on stage can appear to be scripted. Sometimes not. The better the show the more likely an ignorant audience is to believe that the cast is cheating. That’s the magic of improv.
The second half of the show is an improvised musical based on a suggestion from the audience. What ensued last Friday evening was madcap beauty. The events of the show will not be revealed as the events of every musical will vary greatly from night to night. What will remain constant is the dedication and skill of the cast. To clarify, “skill” is not intended to suggest vocal prowess or dramatic intensity. Rather, if there’s a rulebook for musical theater, then the cast spat on it, lit in on fire and then danced around it a bit before throwing it out the window. “Skill,” for the purposes of this review, is defined as confidence, quick thinking, creativity, playfulness, and communication ability. The former skills are taught. The latter skills can only be learned.
Improvisation is stereotyped as a technique for virtuoso jazz musicians and wacky, bald-headed men in their 30’s. The reality is that improv is something we use everyday, for example, when attempting small talk with coworkers. It is social interaction with rules thrown in to protect the innocent for the purposes of performance. Truly, there is great value in a skill that enables the performer to take themselves less seriously while still emphasizing the severity of significance of their art. Improv should be taught as a highly beneficial tool for musicians and theatre professionals who find themselves in artistic “no man’s land” mid-performance. Yet, it is not.
The cast of B.U.M.P. doesn’t take itself too seriously but they do take the art of Improv very seriously. Classically trained purists with protuberances up their posteriors who attend are at the risk of being offended by the lack of traditional form. The rest of us will sit back and enjoy the show.