If you’re a fan of both improv comedy and musical theater, you’re in luck. On the first and third Friday of every month (tomorrow night being the third) audiences are treated to a hilarious improvised Broadway-style musical, courtesy of a rotating cast of quick-witted comedians who also happen to be good singers. The small cast and band of Boston’s Unscripted Musical Project create a laugh-out-loud one-act musical on the spot, based on an idea from the audience.
Wanting to find out what the improvisational theatrical event was all about, we recently headed over to the makeshift Catalyst Comedy Club in the Fort Point district’s Button Factory for a look. The project’s founder, Pablo Rojas (CFA’04) describes what they do as “Whose Line Is It Anyway and Glee meet off-Broadway.” It’s an apt description.
Dance music streamed from a speaker system set up near the makeshift stage as we arrived. Guests were mingling and sipping beer (the event is BYOB for the 21 and up crowd). We found a pair of front row seats in plastic fold-out chairs. (The intimate space accommodates only about 50 people, heightening the fun). The performers, a quintet dressed simply in black-and-white, took the stage and got down to business, asking the audience to shout out title suggestions for the hour-long musical. Past storylines have been concocted around suggestions ranging from Snow Globe: An Inside Story to The Mayor of Toronto and Zombie Apocalypse Gone Wrong. Each performance is unique, featuring a range of musical styles and songs and jokes tailored to fit that night’s idea.
As audience members shouted out ideas, one resonated above the others. “Tonight,” announced cast member Corey O’Rourke, “we present the opening—and closing—night of Traveling with Nudists,” and with that the latest installment of Boston’s Unscripted Musical Project was off and running.
As the lights came up, O’Rourke and fellow comedian Autumn Gillette were on stage, and in less than a minute, had established that they were a nudist married couple. They eased into the night’s opening number, “I Feel Free,” an upbeat tune extolling the benefits of their “natural” lifestyle. With cheeky lines like “Come on, take a peek at me,” and “The only thing on my body is SPF 40,” the song was impressive both for its technical quality and its witty lyrics.
The number concluded with O’Rourke’s character confessing he was tired of being stared at by others as if he were a freak. He leaves his wife and forsakes nudity for clothing and a career as a model, setting up the musical’s central conflict. Over the next hour, audiences were treated to an assortment of eccentric characters (a gay fashion designer couple who adopt Steve as their greatest muse, as well as a promiscuous PTA mom who seduces Steve), recurring jokes, puns, hilarious accents, and lots of musical numbers. With jazz tempos and heart-wrenching ballads, the cast delivered each song with gusto, adding in harmonies, backup vocals, vibrato, the occasional falsetto, and even synchronized dance. They were so good that it was hard to believe the dialogue and songs were made up as they went.
The cast, an ensemble of veteran improv performers who have worked with the likes of ImprovAsylum and ImprovBoston, kept the laughs coming until the musical’s climactic scene: Steve’s runway debut. The unlikely model trips and falls, becoming a laughingstock. His wife, who has witnessed the embarrassment, steps out of the audience proclaiming, “You have always been beautiful to me, Steve.” The show’s heartwarming conclusion has the two reconcile as the rest of the cast encourages Steve to shed his clothes and “go free”—a rousing reprise of the opening number. With that, the lights came up and the cast took bows to well-deserved applause.
The opening—and closing—of Traveling with Nudists behind us, we headed out, having laughed so much our stomachs hurt and our eyes were teary, humming “go free, go free, go free.”
Boston’s Unscripted Musical Project, BYOB for those 21 and up, is the first and third Friday of every month at 8 p.m. at the Boston Button Factory, 50 Melcher St., Boston. Purchase tickets, $10 a week or more in advance, $15 the week of the show, and $20 at the door, here or at the door. Performances frequently sell out, so buying in advance is advised. By public transportation, take any inbound Green Line trolley to Park Street and transfer to a Red Line train to South Station.
This is part of a series featuring Boston nightlife venues of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the Comment section below.