Broadway’s Next Hit Musical
Full confession: Before seeing Broadway’s Next Hit Musical, I put improv into that theatrical circle of hell where abide mimes, standalone comics and topical satires. This group of five scarily talented, intelligent, funny and all-around adorable actors converted me.
The schtick plays much funnier than it sounds -- and it sounds pretty funny. At each performance, the audience members write down the name of a fictitious song on cards which are placed in a bowl on the stage. Predictably, plenty are scatological, smutty or just-plain silly.
The host, Greg Triggs (more about him below) picks one or more of the five to dip into the bowl and retrieve at random a song title. They then immediately act out the song in a musical, whose plot is invented then and there.
At the performance I saw, the songs were:
• "I Have the Worst Diarrhea," from the musical E. Coli, about a taster at a meatpacking plant who gets the squirts from a bad skirt skate;
• "Pouf!" from the musical "Ninja," about a Yentl-like disguised female pupil at a Ninja school high in the Himalayas whose master ("I have just killed a man. It took 56 years, but I killed him." "Was he in the hospital?" "Yes. Is there a more perfect place to kill a man than in a hospital bed?") teaches her how to become invisible;
• "You’re My Little Island Poop Machine," from the musical Island Romance, in which a man and an unhappily married woman correspond from their respective desert islands via messages in a bottle until they meet and, accompanying him whimsically by blowing on (imaginary) bottles, the man gives her the cutesy name Poop;
• "How We Spell ’Cataract," from the musical Eye-Magination.
The last was the winner as determined by crowd applause. In the second half of the evening (no intermission), the cast acted out the entire Broadway musical Eye-Magination, about a renegade professor at an optometry school who insists that his students disregard the act of seeing in favor of inner site. One of the pupils rebels after a disagreement with another student about how to achieve life’s goals.
Since her father heads the school, the professor is fired, to the chagrin of the other students. He’s reinstated in a happy finale, however, with the renegade pupil becoming his docent. They reprised the winning song ("Cataract"), with the lyrics changed, of course, but fundamentally the same. And there’s choreography!
You know what’s really scary? The score was at least as good as several cast albums from actual shows. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough (this is beginning to read like an infomercial), the pianist improvised a complex prelude composed of eye references, songs like "I Can See for Miles" and "I Can See Clearly Now."
Overseeing this madness was Triggs, whose one-liners underscored the profound silliness of the evening. He began with a monologue about growing up in Pennsylvania Dutch country and coming out ... as Amish. There followed plenty of "Amish" jokes, some provided by that evening’s star cohost, Julie Halston.
The longtime muse of Downtown drag diva Charles Busch, Halston immediately jumped into the schtick, telling Trigg she was an "Amish moll," or, as Trigg put it, an "Amish hag." You get the drift. Halston later ad-libbed how she contributed to the "gay, lesbian and transgender community." Trigg immediately picked up on her omission: "But not bisexuals. Because you’ve got to make a choice!"
The jokes veered from the scat references (inevitable given the audience’s song titles) to making fun of Julie Taymor and The Lion King, to current-event howlers. Sample: about an out-of-town run for one of the songs picked at random from the bowl but not used about immigration, "The show closed in Arizona. The cast spray tanned themselves, then went to a diner, got carded and deported." Oh yes: Charlie Sheen was in there somewhere. A few times.
The fact that the cast members weren’t gay (as far as I could tell; I haven’t slept with any of them -- yet) only makes the show more, well, gay. I can only compare this to the late lamented Forbidden Broadway revues for originality, high-spiritidness, and theater know-how.
The fact that this all takes place in the intimate confines of the Triad, a tiny jewel-box cabaret upstairs from a Turkish restaurant on staid West 72nd Street, only makes this more Broadway insider-y.
There’s not much more to say if the above didn’t make you laugh. I’ll only add that I was literally crying from laughing so hard. I haven’t had this good a time in the theater in an age. Just see it, for crying out loud.
Broadway’s Next Hit Musical
Thursdays at 9 p.m. through April 21
The Triad Theater, 158 W. 72nd St.
Call 212-803-5433 or go to the website for ticket information.
Upcoming co-hosts: Michael McGlone (3/17); Valerie Smaldone (3/24); Susie Mosher (3/31)
Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).