Bigger and bolder than ever, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is currently celebrating thirty – two dynamic years. In 2018, there are more than six hundred choices on offer.

These highly – diverse options include art exhibitions, cabaret, competitions, debates, improvisation, kids’ comedy, musicals, sketch shows, song cycles, theatre, and traditional stand – up. Put simply, there is something of interest available for everyone.

For punters with a taste for musical theatre, Spontaneous Broadway should be right up your Tin Pan Alley.

Drawing on theatre sports as its prime source of influence and inspiration, the concept premiered twenty – three years ago in New York City. (That template eventually made its way to Australia, first appearing at The Melbourne Fringe Festival in 2000.)

The format appears to be deceptively simple. (Anyone who has attempted improvisation, either as a classroom exercise or more, will know that is rarely the case.)

Prior to each performance, patrons are asked to write down titles for an original song, all of which are placed in ‘The Bucket Of Dreams’. Relying only on these suggestions from the audience, actors are asked to pitch a concept and tune from scratch, have their idea voted on, then as a team, build the finished product before our very eyes. Think two television hits combined, Whose Line Is It Anyway? meets Thank God You’re Here, and you’ll get the idea.

Each performance is in effect, opening (and closing) night. Meaning, new ideas are requested before every show.

Furthermore, the roadblocks to success are endless. Those variables alone, are enough to make the experience a humorous cliff hanger journey for everyone. This is the ultimate tightrope walk, and viewers are at one with the artists for every step of the way.

Produced by John Thorn (who is also its musical director and improvisational composer extraordinaire), Spontaneous Broadway is hosted by the amiable Russell Fletcher. The local version has toured many times, with sell – out seasons at both the Sydney Opera House and The Famous Spiegeltent.

In its eighteen – year history, many of Australia’s comedy stars have been a part of the show. This season is no exception, with special guests such as Jack Alexander, Casey Bennetto, Scott Brennan, Amberley Cull, Scott Edgar, George Kapianiaris, Nicolette Minster, Emily Taheny, Toby Truslove, and Cal Wilson.

On the evening I attended, Saturday night’s team members were Rik Brown, Amanda Buckley, Gillian Cosgriff, and Andrew McClelland. Playing off against each other, the quartet exuded frenetic energy, with a supportive balance of give and take.

All four are experienced musical theatre and cabaret artists. Brown in particular, is well – known for his contribution to theatre sports. (At last year’s festival, I saw him feature in another improvisation outing called The Mighty Little Puppet Show.)

As I have already stated, the show’s content changes with each performance. (Simple costumes and props are kept within easy reach when needed, too.)

To give one a hint of the ideas up for grabs, some of the song suggestions chosen were:

  • ‘Gluten Me, Gluten You’ (which Brown pitched for an elaborate saga about baking);
  • ‘Shop Girl’ (about a dress designer from the American wild west, (Cosgriff) who invents butt stirrups), and;
  • ‘The Day I Dreamed’, with Buckley as an astronaut, involved in an outer space romance.

The winner, ‘I Love The Way The E Class Tram Goes Ding’, became the political transit caper, Wham Bam Thankyou Tram, in McClelland’s quirky care. Much to my surprise and delight, there was even a requisite eleven o’clock number.

Spontaneous Broadway added an extra dimension to the overall experience, with each artist also performing in character as a well – respected (yet entirely fictional) actor or actress. How the ensemble was able to maintain this aspect for the show’s sixty – minute running time, is a clear mark of their training, ability to play in the moment, and focussed professionalism.

Within the relative intimacy of the Trades Hall’s Quilt Room, the show is very much up close and personal. What better way to spend an impulsive hour at this year’s festival.

The fun continues until Sunday April 22. Don’t miss out.

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