By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Calling an improvised musical Flop! is like calling a plastic surgery practice Oops! or an aerial circus Thud!. It’s irresistible; you can’t not look.
But then, it’s clearly impossible: making up an entire musical, with an opening number, romantic ballads, cute patter songs, songs of self-discovery, song-and-dance, an 11 o’clock number, a finale. AND, since there are only two of them onstage, the duo of Ron Pederson and Ashley Botting, along with pianist Erik Mortimer, improvise the story and play all the characters, too — the leads, the sidekicks, the cameos, the comic distractions — at every performance of Flop!
There’s a kind of magic to the live-ness of it all, the risk. And we’re involved. Pederson and Botting create Flop! from the chaos of audience cues, with side commentary, self-appraisal, and adjustments. It’s kind of like virtuoso trapeze artists already in the air commenting that the ropes in the rigging look a bit frayed.
At Saturday’s show, Flop! was a romantic comedy all about a wedding, a mismatched couple, best friends…. Scenes happened in a deli, a laundromat, an arcade, none of them cues I’d have called promising. Like make-overs, improv is all about working with what you’ve got. There was a scene where movement turned into tap dancing. Elton John was there. There were songs in German. And French. Really.
And it was a riot to see disaster and the laws of gravity averted so dexterously. Pederson, whom Edmonton audiences know from the deluxe improv trio Gordon’s Big Bald Head, and Botting, a Second City veteran, are agile and funny. And they have an instinct for musical theatre form, when the songs should happen, when it’s amusing to have them happen when they shouldn’t. When things went askew, they acknowledged it. One of them would step out and say “what do we need here?” or “what if the best friend had a song?”
And with Mortimer, Pederson and Botting have the matching expertise of a terrific musical improviser who can anticipate the narrative needs of the moment, and play in any style.
As I say, it’s all impossible. And watching the impossible actually be entertained, and executed, before your very eyes makes you shake your head (and laugh out loud).
Flop!, as Pederson explains at the end, is a workshop, a work-in-progress en route to Off-Broadway in the fall. The try-out is at Rapid Fire Theatre’s new Exchange Theatre in Strathcona. It’s a welcoming, cleverly designed space for improv, mere steps away from the showbiz bistro bar The Next Act and a dozen other Strathcona eateries. These are cues; improvise yourself a fun outing.
Check out 12thnight’s preview interview with Pederson, Botting, and producer Alan Kliffer here. Flop! runs through May 28. Tickets: rapidfiretheatre.com.