Broadway’s Next Hit Musical

June 6, 2019 | By | Add a Comment

Satirical improvisation based on audience suggestions is tricky enough when it merely involves words and actions in unrelated set pieces. But add impromptu music, lyrics, and a quirky overarching theme to the mix, and you really have a challenge. It’s one that, by and large, this cast of four composer-performers was well up to the night I saw their show, Broadway’s Next Hit Musical, at the Jerry Orbach Theater. Their spoofing concept is both original and relatable, and their talent for impromptu composing, singing, and acting is quite remarkable. Their audience was equally up to the challenge, both contributing and responding heartily.

No spoiler alert is necessary here because no future audience will get to see the show I saw, and possibly not even the same exact quartet of cast members since there are six of them in the troupe. My night’s bill featured Deb Rabbai, Rob Schiffmann, Stefan Schick, and Robert Z. Grant. (Rabbai and Schiffmann are also co-artistic directors of the enterprise.) Two emcees and two pianist/musical directors alternate on shows. My emcee was Greg Triggs, and my musical director Gary Adler.

The 90-minute piece begins with a phony awards show, actually called the “Phony Awards,” for which the printed yellow-and-black program is named Parody Bill. The four cast members in turn take an audience member-proposed show title and song title to create and perform. Grant was up first with “Step in and Stand Clear” from the musical Wait for It, which he chose to set in “Merry Old England” and to be about an older man, a recluse, unable to forge a connection with a woman he admired. Somehow this allowed Grant and his backup trio to perform in a variety of British accents. Adler, of necessity, did a generic upbeat vamp on his piano until Grant formulated his song, which the pianist then collaborated with astonishingly—as he was to do with the remaining three numbers in Act One (and the mini-musical in Act Two).

This group loves to add to the humor with regional accents, and all four pieces contained them in abundance. Though, as Triggs noted in another context, “the Scottish accents seem to disappear once they start singing.” Schick drew a show called Are Those German Guns Outside Paris or Is My Heart Pounding?, set during the Nazi invasion of the French capital during World War II, and its signature song, “Zut Alors! Shut the Door.” The bad European accents abounded here, and Grant played the cross-dressing poodle of the couple who had chosen to stay put in their apartment during the raid. Schiffmann got the show Birth of an Idea and the song “Ovulation Invasion,” which was all about men getting pregnant; it came closest of the four pieces to current political commentary. Rabbai’s closer was the song “Purple Balloons on a Cloudy Day” from The Rustler, which allowed a shift from bad European accents to worse American Southern ones and had the three men in the cast playing cows begging to be milked.

Act One ended with the audience voting for its favorite, which turned out to be Schiffmann’s Birth of an Idea. Act Two was an expanded version of that musical, replete with additional songs, grab-bag costumes, fright wigs, and lots more cross-dressing, which, with only one actual female in the cast, was necessary—but thoroughly enjoyed by everyone on- and offstage. Again, I’ve given nothing away; you’ll never see this show, but you get the idea.

Jerry Orbach Theater – May 29, June 6, 13, 20, 27

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Robert Windeler is the author of 17 books, including biographies of Mary Pickford, Julie Andrews, Shirley Temple, and Burt Lancaster. As a West Coast correspondent for The New York Times and Time magazine, he covered movies, television and music, and he was an arts and entertainment critic for National Public Radio. He has contributed to a variety of other publications, including TV Guide, Architectural Digest, The Sondheim Review, and People, for which he wrote 35 cover stories. He is a graduate of Duke University in English literature and holds a masters in journalism from Columbia, where he studied critical writing with Judith Crist. He has been a theatre critic for Back Stage since 1999, writes reviews for BistroAwards.com, and is a member of The Players and the American Theatre Critics Association.

Leave a Reply