Anthony J. Piccione
- Contributing New York Critic
As a theatergoer, improvisational comedy has always been one of my favorite genres of theatre. The reason being that you never really go into it – either as a performer, or as an audience member – knowing exactly what you’re going to end up with. More often than not, the result is hilarious and memorable. However, it’s not every day that you see the genre of musical theatre being mixed with improv in theatre, yet that’s exactly what the show What Town? The Musical – presented by performers Katie Hammond and Daniel Tepper – seeks to pull off in a successful manner.
As the title of the show suggests, the concept of this show revolves around the question of “what town” the show should take place in, which varies depending on what the audience decides each night. At the beginning, we see our two cast members come out and introduce themselves. (They also take a moment to introduce their keyboard player and board operator.) Right away, they ask the audience exactly what town – any town at all, made up or otherwise – tonight’s show should take place in. In the case of the show I attended, the name of the town – shouted out by an audience member – was “happyville”, and as a result, we were treated to a show with plenty of lighthearted humor that revolved around the idea of happiness, and a town where everyone had to be happy, at all times.
Ms. Hammond and Mr. Tepper both deliver highly energetic performances, as they play multiple characters over the course of different scenes and sing musical numbers that often revolve around something that was given to them just a few moments ago, all while failing to leave this audience member bored. I was very impressed with the ease in which they were able to switch quickly from one character to another – sometimes right in the middle of a musical number – without the show getting too confusing. That isn’t always easy to do, especially in a show such as this, which has a fairly minimal number of technical elements, and I applaud them for pulling it off.
In addition to much of the improvised dialogue, the physical comedy also played an especially big role in making the show entertaining. Without giving too much away, I particularly enjoyed the parts where they portrayed the more elderly characters, as well as a certain musical number references a certain popular dance.
If I had any one issue with this show, it was that it almost felt too clear which parts were improvised (i.e. the theme being about being “happy” all the time in “happyville”) and which ones were likely scripted (i.e. the parts about everyone getting married on the same day, possibly?). Normally, I wouldn’t care, but I thought it was worth noting, given its promotion as “an improvised musical on the spot”. Perhaps I’d need to see it a second time, to know for certain. In any case, however, this was still a relatively small issue, and the overall experience was still both hysterical and entertaining.
Personally, as we reach the end of 2017, I’m very grateful that I had the chance to go see this one, and that I got to end this year of reviewing shows with one that was as pleasant as this one. There will still be quite a few opportunities to catch this show during the first half of 2018, every month or two. So if you have the chance, be sure to consider checking it out, if you’re looking to get a good laugh.
“What Town? The Musical” will be presented again at the Underground Theatre at the People’s Improv Theatre on February 16th, March 16th, April 13th and June 15th at 7:30pm. For more information, please visit www.thepit-nyc.com/event/2017-12-29-what-town-the-musical.