I think it is always a good thing to be surprised when you go to the theatre. I entered The Alley Theater expecting a pop-culture savvy parody chock full of references to the oeuvre of filmmaker John Hughes: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink. This freewheeling company’s history of shows like Evil Dead: the Musical, Point Break Live! and most recently The Matrix Live! The Parody would certainly lead you to expect such an enterprise.
Instead, the familiar archetypes and tropes of the Hughes 1980s-era high school melodrama become the building blocks for a loosely structured, lithe and nimble evening of improvisational comedy ably guided by director J.P. Lebangood, who is himself a key presence onstage, framing the action as an MC of sorts. The cast of six randomly (?) select their identities as The Punk, The Prom Queen, The Freak, The Geek, The Jock, and The Rich Kid and then proceed to spin a story that follows the six from high school through more or less dismal adult lives until their class reunion 25 years later. As is customary with improv comedy, input from the audience cues the developing scenario.
It is fair to say that, at least on the evening I was in attendance, while the focus often drifted away from Hughes parody in the strictest sense, it never strayed far from being very funny. The ensemble seemed to be having a good time and was bright and quick in their responses, displaying sure understanding of the source material but also easily abandoning the core idea in pursuit of more subversive tangents. Especially fascinating was how Mr. Lebangood actively and spontaneously directed the activity, interjecting himself directly when things started to go flat, or accompanying certain moments with extemporaneous lyrics from an offstage microphone. It was an effective balance of order and chaos, energized by risk and uncertainty. He also makes good use of musician Aaron Crater, whose accompaniment on electric piano was expert, but who also found sure laughs warming up the audience.
According to the program notes, the show underwent significant change from the original concept of a scripted musical intended for the more generous space that The Alley occupied before moving into this smaller downstairs venue. Ever since moving into The Pointe, Alley chief Scott Davis has had to work in an ever-changing environment, lending each production an underlying uncertainty. It makes it hard to imagine their work ever becoming complacent, and the edge and energy that results is perfectly embodied in the work onstage in this production. The program also makes it clear that Hughesical, The Improvised Reunion Musical is an evolving work destined to return in a presumably more “developed” form in the future, and that this version is but a “first run.” It will be interesting to see if it is as much fun once it begins to be codified, but the experimental rendition now on display works very well on its own terms: it is damn funny!
Featuring Kimberly Taylor-Peterson, April Singer, Madeline Dee, Scott Goodman, Scott R. Davis, and Tony Smith.
Hughesical, The Improvised Reunion Musical
February 9, 10, 11, 17 & 18, 2012. All shows at 7:30. Tickets, Advance: $18 General Admission; Student, Senior, Military $16 Day of Show: $20 General Admission; Senior, Military: $18 Student: $10 with valid current student ID at the box office Season ticket eligible * Group Rates available
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner