By Donna Herman
I saw Anybody: An Improvised Historical Hip-Hopera presented by North Coast at the Connelly Theater on the 2nd night of its 4 night, 5 performance run there, and I wish I had the next two nights free to see it for the rest of its run. Why not? They take audience suggestions for the subject of the biographical hip-hop musical that they completely improvise on the spot – music, choreography, dialog and all – so it will be different every show. And the talent on stage is off the chain. There was a packed audience who loved every minute.
The show starts with a solo improvisation by Mark Martin, the 2016 American Beatbox Champ. Mark and Jody Shelton, who plays keyboards and is also the director of the show, improvise all the music in the show, and Mark also provides some hilarious sound effects. After Mark’s improv, the cast of 6 comes on stage. Although there are 12 performers with bios in the playbill, only 6 in addition to the two musicians, performed the night I saw it. I assume it’s a rotating cast. They explain the improv nature of what we’re about to see and ask us for suggestions of historical figures they can do the show around. They warned us we should know something about the life of the person we suggest and then had us shout out ideas. There was an organized contingent who had come prepared and shouted in unison and got heard over the din. Princess Diana it was.
There followed a brief discussion between audience and performers on some of the details of her life. Turns out this audience was a little young and American to have much concrete knowledge about some of the facts, but with the help of google, her birthplace and maiden name were established and we were off.
The cast announced their roles: Richie Alfson claimed Prince Charles; Meg Reilly claimed Princess Diana; Katy Berry took Camilla and Prince William; Mike Poole grabbed Queen Elizabeth; Douglas Widick played her Fashionable Friends, Prince Harry and the Limo Driver; and Steve Jeanty portrayed Depression. They began with a song – the only one in the show whose tune was not improvised. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so Lin Manuel Miranda should be very flattered that they used the tune of the opening song in Hamilton, “Alexander Hamilton”, to introduce Diana with rhymes like Moana and banana. Hey, Moana was a princess, too…
After that it was all original music and dialogue, and some fancy footwork too. The rapping was excellent, especially by Meg Reilly as Princess Diana. She rapped a song “Rebellious Little Blond” about how she was not a cookie-cutter girl and another one, “I got a brain” that were all attitude and moxy, spit out in fast staccato rhyme. Their voices were excellent, and they harmonized seamlessly on the fly. It’s clearly a group that’s worked together for a long time and trusts each other. While Anybody is only playing at the Connelly Theater for two more performances on Saturday night September 23rd at 8pm and 10pm, you can catch them every Saturday night doing their thing – which is musical improv – at the PIT at 9pm. If you want to laugh in these grim times, treat yourselves to North Coast, you won’t regret it. Just leave the kids and grandmas at home – they’re not shy about naming body parts and sexual functions.
Anybody: An Improvised Historical Hip-Hopera Directed by Jody Shelton
WITH: Performers: Richie Alfson, Katy Berry, Steve Jeanty, Mike Poole, Meg Reilly, Jamie Robilotta, Rachel Rosenthal, Douglas Widick, RJ Williams; Beatboxers: Ethan Scott, Mark Martin, Amir Shaaban.
Musical Accompaniment by Jody Shelton, Presented by North Coast at Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street through September 23rd. Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/north-coast-presents-anybody-an-improvised-historical-hip-hopera-tickets-36963487787 or at the door.