Review: Songbuster: An Improvised Musical (Bad Dog Theatre)

songbuster1Improvised musical comedy charms on stage in Toronto

Songbuster: An Improvised Musical , currently onstage at Bad Dog Theatre, features a multi-talented troupe of people singing while improvising, and improvising while singing, based on suggestions solicited at the top of the show. I generally expect musical improv to be sketch-oriented, but these folks set themselves the challenging task of creating a full narrative inspired by their interrogation of an audience member.

Instead of asking the audience to call out the names of objects/places/etc, as happens in sketch improv, the ringmaster of the evening selected one women and put her through a series of questions about what she did last summer. She had been traveling around Eurasia, staying in hostels. After rejecting a number of the places she had been to (quite reasonably, in my opinion: while Budapest does sound like a wonderful place to visit, I don’t expect many people in either the cast or audience to know enough about it to carry a forty-five minute improv) they settled on Russia.

What followed was a series of scenes, usually two or three handers, featuring an old married couple with sex on the brain, a hapless lawyer-turned-bartender, pints of vodka (mimed), terrible accents, an ill-conceived robbery, a love story, and more.

When everyone comes together for the final scene, they fill the small Bad Dog stage. It’s a large troupe who know their strengths, and singing is one of them across the board. It can’t be easy to arrange so many voices in harmony, particularly when much of the lyrics are improvised, but they manage it with aplomb.

They must rely on some musical conventions from night to night, and I could tell that some gags must be in their stock bag of tricks. For example, the old married couple paired a very short man with a taller lady, including a dance scene, for visual comedic effect. That felt like something they probably use a lot but it’s charming, if slightly problematic (it wouldn’t be a joke if it was a short woman with a taller man).

The cast is quick on their feet, not only to create a full story based on nothing but the idea of a hostel in Russia, but also to adapt and develop on whatever the other performers are throwing out there, with a large cast, and in song — often their lyrics even rhyme.

The crowd was warmed up for Songbuster by the musical comedy duo of Hot Cousin, who sang about vacation friends, differing opinions on the movie Gravity, and — my personal favourite — how the terrible piece of trash Love Actually is not actually about love at all. They were sweetly funny, and I thought their BFF rapport with each other was lovely.

The opening act will be different on future nights, but I trust Songbuster to find and present similarly delightful outfits — there’s no dearth of them in the city. As for Songbuster itself, it’s a troupe rich with skill and experience, sure to offer a good night out.


Photo provided by the company.