Spontaneous Broadway Australia was first launched in 2000 by musician extraordinaire John Thorn who loved the New York concept he heard about in the late 1990s. It has been revived nationally many times at various festivals and one off showcases, and the reason for that – it’s bloody funny and audiences love it! A packed house filled the large auditorium stage space at the Memo Music Hall in St Kilda to see Thorn return once more alongside MC Russell Fletcher. A brief explanation about the improvisational nature of the show was given for unfamiliar audiences that included the idea that this night might go on for 17 hours with 17 bottles to be drunk. Next was a brief introduction to our troupe of five all adopting a persona not linked to each other; regulars Rik Brown and Scott Brennan were welcome alongside well loved Genevieve Morris and Cal Wilson with new talent Amberly Cull. The opening medley kicked things off as they approached the Bucket of Dreams where audience members had listed original song titles as inspiration for a song within a made up Broadway show.
Russell Fletcher’s flair for wit and timing was balanced with the need keep things moving and make the audience feel absolutely relaxed and included. His interviewing of each ensemble member allowed jokes to build without being overdone and allowed ‘gems of gold’ to be created on the spot before us. Morris as Dame Helen Highwater was the perfect start with her 1970s San Francisco set show called Work Yourself Out that showcased an hilarious improvised song called “How Do you Interpret That?” that involved massage oil and getting high. Her complete embodiment of character was fantastically evident throughout, even as she enjoyed the other performances…or not.
Brennan as eternal understudy Anthony Pryor knows how to entertain a crowd, but I found his over emphasised leg manoeuvres as he explained his show Tundra of Love a little distracting. But full gusto into his ad hoc rendition of “Shiver My Tinder” set in Antarctica and featuring love, penguins and a Somali pirate was highly entertaining. Cull as Jimmy Newsboy was an interesting character choice but she fully committed to her role in both movement and accent. Her country style show Nay Nay Nay featured the loss of a best friend with the tune “This Old Horse of Mine” and definitely showcased her as the strongest vocal talent of the group. It was also by this point you really got to appreciate the talents of pianist Thorn who had to play a range of impromptu songs and meet the tempo of the singer as they went from verse to chorus and back again.
Wilson as neck braced Adele was droll and engaging as she developed her love story performance of Getting To Know You. Her torch song, “Uncomfortable Silence” was the most artistic interpretation of a given title as it suddenly ended intentionally. Very funny. Rik Brown as newly arrived European Helmut VanDerBunns was charming and clever as he described life in a French restaurant based in a small American town for his show OH&S Cargo. His mournful song of regret – intended as not quite French not quite blues – yet still echoes of both -was uproarious border-lining on macabre and entitled “I Used to kiss on her on the lips but it’s all over now”. This was perhaps the strangest and most difficult given title of the night and was delivered exceptionally well fleshing out many jokes.
As the audience deliberated about which one of the five songs we wanted to see fleshed out as a real show, Fletcher’s recaps along with quick quips again were well done. With Tundra of Love coming in first, we were then treated to a hilarious spontaneous show indeed as Thorn provided an impressive overture of all the pieces the cast would have to produce – and allowed them some much needed planning time. That short musical interlude got big cheers just for the skill and inventiveness. Brennan lead the others through the story he had fabricated, and barely could remember, extremely well. Clever use of jackets and hats transferred Wilson from penguin into polar bear and the others from pirates into other participants. The physical comedy talents of the group really came to the fore and also displayed just how well they all worked in with each other – super talented. The most impressive highlight was Cull singing “Loveless Cave” about her capture by penguins after a suggestive offer by Fletcher. Soon after there was a wonderful “I Love You” duet by Brennan and Cull as the tinder lovers from two opposing research ice stations. There was also great anticipation from the audience whether Brennan would be able to recall his solo winning number “Shiver My Tinder” – and it was pretty spot on and got great applause. The final dance number ended the night on a high.
The success of a production like this is reliant on actors who can think quickly and creatively on their feet. Thankfully, the comedians of this group had it in spades. The other key to a great improvisational show is making it look easy and working together by bouncing ideas off each other and all seven did this exceptionally well. Special shout out to sound and light technician Tom who also had to creatively keep up with the mood of each song and show with a great design of lights spectacular. Make sure you catch them on their next outing – whether you’ve seen it before or not – it is always going to be original and very amusing.