BWW Review: SONDHEIM UNSCRIPTED Sheer Brilliance at the Falcon
Sondheim Unscripted/book & music & lyrics completely improvised - original/Impro Theatre/directed by Dan O'Connor & Michele Spears/Falcon Theatre/through September 27
To anyone who has not witnessed an Impro Theatre production, a word to the wise: you are about to experience a rare form of brilliance, sometimes seen in improvisation, but especially keen in Sondheim Unscripted, because it not only has an original book but music as well... totally in the style of Stephen Sondheim. A Sondheim composition is known for its incredible range of notes, strident chords, mixed rhythms, fugues, not to mention that his music amazingly conveys the themes or moods of the piece...to the letter. He is a unique composer, impossible to copy...well, Impro surely proves that statement wrong.
This is how it all starts. At the top they ask the audience for two things. At this performance, on Friday August 28, they wanted someone to give them - verbally - a priceless heirloom and why it is so valuable. A man said: a crockpot, because the relative that gave it to him could not cook. The second thing they asked for was four consecutive musical notes. These four would be the first notes of the very first song in the show. We were guaranteed that this show was to be totally off the cuff and it would never be duplicated. Amazing things were about to follow!
Eight actors - five men and three women - began almost instantaneously, with musical director Peter Smith at the piano. Jonathan Green and and Matthew Loren Cohen are guest musical directors. Daniel Blinkoff, Floyd VanBuskirk, Ryan Smith, Michele Spears, Lisa Fredrickson, Kelly Bashar, Brian Michael Jones and Brian Lohmann created characters out of mid air - gods and goddesses from the great beyond who had traveled to earth through time. Fredrickson and Bashar named themselves Fiona and Candace and created "Pretty Little Soup" like two witches at their cauldrons, mesmerizing us by storm with their clever spontaneous patter and exacting rhythms in the unmistakable SS manner. They met two guys Markus (Jones) and Johnson (Lohmann) who fell in love with them, but being as they are, the women are goddesses who cannot stay in one place for very long. Alas, there is romance and passion, but close behind the Sondheim themes of love and loss.
Later, Zeus (VanBuskirk) bemoans the dull eternity as a god and wishes for change, to be free to experience in a brand new way the style of living from moment to moment...kind of like the whole philosophy of Impro's mission. Thus welcome the next Sondheim themes of self-discovery and change, and how difficultly one adjusts to any transformation. It's basically control versus free will: to be a puppeteer or a puppet, a god or an earthling.
The year was set as 1944 with a lot of jokes about the war and how to end it, and two of the men became researchers appointed by the government to search and analyze scientific techniques to create destruction and eventual freedom. In one of the funniest moments in the show Jones as Markus discovers FIONA - Fusion In Or Near Atomicality and sends the explosive off to do its thing. Lohmann as Johnson, his partner, overhears and seizes the moment as a professor teaching a class about the discovery. He states that he never saw Markus again. Funny funny stuff!
Musically Act One's closing number, which I would call "Take a First Step" has a fugue which the actors describe as the process of tension and resolve. It's a breakout for Zeus (VanBuskirk) as he contemplates leaving Olympus for the unpredictability of the unknown. A nice reminder of Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle! Another great musical moment is what I would call "What If?" where Mirerva (Spears) with hat and cane - used more than once during the evening as a reminder of "Side by Side" from Sondheim's Company - puts forth the idea of how nice is would be if we could experience everything for the very first time. Delightful! The finale has "What's In Your Pot?" with the whole cast centerstage right back where they started at the top. As in any Sondheim musical, what is resolved? At play's end, as in life, characters are as uncertain and baffled as they were in the beginning.
This group of actors is brilliant, and I do not use that word lightly. BRILLIANT...they must be seen in Sondheim Unscripted at the Falcon through September 27 only! And remember, what I described to you, you will most likely not see, as every show is radically different. Enjoy!