"Sondheim Unscripted" at the Falcon Review– Scintillating Improvised Musical Theatre

 

 

 

Sondheim Unscripted at the Falcon is a unique and completely improvised musical in the style of one of Broadway’s most acclaimed artists, Stephen Sondheim. Every show brings to it the collective creativity of the participating gifted artists. Co-directed by Dan O'Connor & Michele Spears, it is Impro Theatre at its best, brilliantly clever and funny. From the get-go at opening night, August 28th, the audience was informed that no others would ever witness the same performance to be seen that evening. I elected to attend two different performances, proving to myself it was really true. Indeed, even though some actors appeared in both, neither show bore any resemblance to the other.

The entire ensemble numbers seventeen, but only seven or eight appear on stage at each performance. It starts with the cast lined up at front stage, asking suggestions from the audience for two things to develop as the show’s subject and theme—a priceless heirloom, and why it’s so valuable, and four consecutive musical notes as the theme to introduce the show’s first song. On opening night the choice was a crockpot, valuable because the owner couldn’t cook!

The innovative ad libbing and song lyrics that followed were both clever and hilarious. Sondheim’s wonderful compositions are well known for their diverse chords, rhythms, incredible range of notes, and themes. Musical director and jazz pianist par excellence, Peter Smith, picked up on the actors’ cues, and at all times coordinated seamlessly with them. I was amazed at what he achieved and developed from the original four difficult audience-suggested notes! As well as basking in his own ability to instantly compose new music and rhythms in the style of Stephen Sondheim, he was visibly enjoying the creativity of the actors ably getting into the swing and sing of it all!

 

 

On opening night, eight actors—Daniel Blinkoff, Brian Michael Jones, Ryan Smith, Brian Lohmann, Michelle Spears, Lisa Frederickson, Kelly Bashar and Floyd Van Buskirk—created gods and goddesses who traveled to earth from the spheres. All stage names were created on the spot. The crockpot became a cauldron, over which Fiona and Candace (Fredrickson and Bashar), like witches, created “Pretty Little Soup.” They met earthlings Markus and Johnson (Jones and Lohmann), fell in love, experienced passion, and suffered love and loss—reminiscent of Sondheim’s themes.

Clever, captivating, hilarious patter and song lyrics prevailed throughout each scene as the cast synchronized and cued each other in. Even Zeus (Van Buskirk), wishing for a change from his dull eternity as a god, makes an appearance from the top of a ramp leading to a bare, checker-board stage, with which the versatile cast makes good use at all times!

 

 

After intermission, another starter theme was requested, “Why’d you do that?” was selected, and a rollicking song and dance routine was instantly created. The show continued with the crockpot still the central subject, and there was no lack of new ideas. The cast just kept ‘em coming! At one point, hats and canes appeared from the sidelines, resulting in some great dancing by Mirerva(Spears) and others, in the style of “Side by Side”, and other delightful musical moments. The finale had the whole cast on stage singing, “What’s in your pot?

Since each Sondheim Unscripted performance is an Impro Theatre “once-off” show it doesn’t behoove finely detailing every item at either show I attended. Suffice to say the cast and crew on both occasions were just brilliant, and never disappointed!

Superbly co-directed by Dan O'Connor & Michele Spears, co-founders of Impro Theatre. Perfectly timed lighting supervision and stage management by Michael Becker on opening night, and Alex Caan on September 3rd.

The Falcon Theatre is a 130-seat professional theatre that operates year-round in Burbank, California, built by Director/Writer/Producer Garry Marshall and his daughter Kathleen Marshall La Gambina. It opened in November of 1997 and launched its annual 5-play Subscription Series in 2002, currently produced by Kathleen and Sherry Greczmiel.  Mr. Marshall founded the Falcon as a place where established artists and emerging talent can come together to create exciting work on stage.

OPENING NIGHT:  Friday, August 28, 2015 at 8pm

SHOW CLOSES: Sunday, September 27, 2015 at 4pm

PERFORMANCES:                          

Wed. – Sat. at 8pm, Sun. at 4pm 

PRICES:

Opening Night: $54.00 – $59.00

Weekdays (Wed/Thurs):    $36.50 – $39.00

Weekends (Fri/Sat/Sun)   $41.50 – $44.00

Student Rate (valid student ID):   $29.00

WHERE:    Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank, CA 91505 

TICKETS:   (818) 955-8101 or here for the FalconTheatre

 

 

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