By Nathaniel Cayanan
There’s not much to say about Sondheim Unscripted in terms of story. That is what it sounds like, unscripted. What an audience may see one night may be starkly different the next, depending on what’s blurted out right before the show starts. But this is perhaps its biggest selling point.
Here’s how it works. Right at the start, an ensemble of actors and playwrights, who make up Impro Theatre Company, ask the audience for a trigger object, which on opening night was a crockpot. Within a matter of minutes, the Musical Director (Peter Smith), with four random notes also provided by the audience, concocts a melody that sounds like a Sondheim tune. What unfolds at first is a clunky, laborious mash of on the fly lyrics and choreography. For a short while, it can feel a little irritating, as you wonder whether this show is pretty much a hodgepodge of Freudian slips and ramblings or something more … worthwhile.
And perhaps that’s the point. There’s a lot at risk for the actors, as we wait to see if they can pull it off, if they can salvage something memorable that goes beyond just goofy meandering and self-referential dialogue. And luckily, there is enough talent on the stage to deliver that something worthwhile.
Now, some in the cast are better than others, as they understand that they have to thrust some sort of story forward by adding a new plot point. And these moments are what the audience pines for, as they add to the magic and validity of improvisational theatre. This is mostly true with standout performances from Lisa Fredrickson, Brian Michael Jones, Kelly Holden Bashar, and Cory Rouse, who utilize their strengths to make unique contributions to the show overall. And while there is the occasional breaking of character when the actors say something so ridiculous or clever that they laugh or give a wink to the audience–and, such moments are only endearing in very small doses–overall, the actors are skilled and pull off something that is entertaining and complete.
The show may not be for everyone. Some may want to see a show with an actually thought-out story and real musical numbers with creative lyrics and choreography. But, it is quite the spectacle when these actors try to create an entire show out of nothing. It’s like watching unicycle riding performers balance spinning plates on sticks. And sure, you have to give a lot of benefit of the doubt to the cast and forgive them if they at times can’t deliver a clever line. But, with the cast’s energy, enthusiasm and charm, Sondheim Unscripted is undoubtedly a night full of unpredictable fun.
Sondheim Unscripted will play until Sept. 27th at Falcon Theatre, 4252 W Riverside Dr., Burbank, CA 91505. Tickets are $36.50 to $59 and can be purchased at FalconTheatre.com or by calling (818) 955-8101. Show days and times are Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 4 p.m. There are also Talkback Thursdays with Impro Theatre.