By Edward Kliszus
Tonight’s host Greg Triggs, welcomed the audience and announced that tonight is Broadway’s Next Hit Musical and the 128th Annual Phony Awards. Triggs was a great host, sort of a cross between Don Rickles and Jack Benny without the insults. Throughout the evening, he joked and played with words and sounds and maintained excitement and fun with his comedic introductions and observations.
Competing for the Phony Award
Three improvised musical theater skits were planned for the evening. The level of audience appreciation shall determine the measure of the greatest Phony Award honoree.
The title and sub-title are intriguing, and we soon learn that the actor/singers shall improvise a musical comedy theater scene. Perhaps an agent or producer in the audience will visit the actors after the show to talk about a new production.
For inspiration, actors read fresh clues out loud submitted by audience members. They instantly built a script and story from the clues and began their banter. As they dialogued and developed their scene, pianist and musical director Gary Adler vamped an introduction to a song not yet written, and the troupe began to sing their improvised product, hopefully in the same key as Adler. The piano introduction magically segues into a verse and chorus as the audience gapes in wonderment and amusement at the singing, clever gestures, affectations, jokes, and exploitation of the hilarious, sometimes disjointed clues that inspired the scene. The performers complete these tasks on the fly.
The Haunted Garden
Triggs introduced the fabulous Deborah Rabbai, who began to improvise a scene and song based on an audience member’s obtusely Timothy Leary clue, “The pavement grows flowers while the garden is empty.” She created a theme for her new musical entitled Haunted Garden. She sought revenge on audience members for their trifling clues and drew on audience member Amy to show everyone a basic dance move, which Rabbai used in her skit. “Rainaldo” and another colleague appeared to develop the comedic scene to the audience’s delight. Adler began to play a Schubertian accompaniment to which Rabbai began to sing. The troupe joined in to develop choruses and verses in a frenzy of mirth.
Putin My Putin
Triggs came back to introduce the duo of Pat Swearingen and Mallory Kinney. They began with “he’s obsessive and pretentious” and “a young man trying to take over the road in a small western town of Dodgeshittisky.” Moved and inspired, Kinney segued into a song, picked up by Adler. I want people to sing and say, “Putin my Putin,” from the show Small Ego.
Triggs comes back with more jokes, banter, comments, and anecdotes.
Rob Schiffmann arrived to explain the next theme, “Men’s rejection is god’s protection, from the musical abstinlutely.” Absolute abstinence, we ask? It’s about a preacher in the early 1800s. The song’s lyrics must include “My dog called Beelu.” Kinney and Swearingen returned to develop the scene. Schiffmann postured like an old country preacher and slipped into a gospel feel with Adler. Just as the clock was running out, they figured out how to inject “My Dog Called Beelu” into the song, which drew relief and great applause! A riotous spoof indeed.
Triggs returned to sum up the audience’s “religious experience” from the last skit. Apparently, he experienced one. He explained the process for voting for one of the three skits to determine the Phoney Award winner. It’s simply about applause! He called back the cast from each skit and reviewed each theme and music so the audience could confidently vote.
Skit #3 won based on audience affirmation! The audience member who crafted ”men’s Rejection is god’s Protection” was called up to the stage for his 54 Below Debut and embarrassment.
As a final treat and surprise, a legend of the Phoney Awards Missa Thompson arrived to sing the classic No More Birds, Please from the show Tuppence A Dead Bird. It was a show-stopper!
This show can be summed up by hilarity, good fun, audience participation, cleverness, great music, and an evening that flew by.
For 54 Below
Livestream Director: KJ Hardy
Creative & Programming Director: Jennifer Ashley Tepper
Lighting Director: Becky Morris
Sound Supervisor: Sarah Goodman
Executive Producers: Steve Baruch
254 W 54th St. Cellar, NYC 10019
Tickets & Info: (646) 476-3551
Readers may also enjoy our other reviews like Natalie Douglas at Birdland, Selected Shorts at Symphony Space, 54 Sings Broadway’s Greatest Hits, Now More than Over: The Songs of Billy Recce, and the New Talent Comedy Showcase.