SONGBUSTER – AN IMPROVISED MUSICAL featuring Tricia Black, Kristian Bruun, Ashley Comeau, Alexandra Hurley, Stephanie Malek, Josh Murray, Nug Nahrgang, Nicky Nasrallah, Connor Thompson and musical director Tom King (Songbuster Inc./Next Stage). Factory Studio. January 11 at 7 pm, January 12 at 5:30 pm, January 14 at 6 pm, January 15 at 1:45 pm. See listing. Rating: NNNN
If you think mounting a full-length musical is difficult, imagine the challenge of creating one on the spot. That's what the talented, inspired folks behind Songbuster do every time out.
At the show I saw, with the setting (a cemetery) provided by the audience, the troupe came up with an amusing story that included a grieving son, two death-obsessed women, a grave-robber and his young protége and, of course, several supernatural creatures, from a soul-eating ghost to a dancing zombie named Charles.
Creating defined characters is one thing – and not everyone in the large troupe achieved that – but making them do interesting, believable things (at least within the context of this made-up universe) is another. And that's where Songbuster excels, their comic characters bumping into each other, furthering the plot and, when the moment comes, breaking into song with grace, good fun and some damn clever rhymes.
Pianist and musical director Tom King deserves kudos for mixing up the show's moods and rhythms. He and the cast seem to know exactly when a duet or ensemble number is needed, or when a power ballad can shed light on a character's inner longing.
Standouts at the show I saw included Kristian Bruun, whose Germanic-sounding count got laughs sometimes with a single word or piercing look; Nug Nahrgang, who took one cast member's confusion over the word "mausoleum" and made a running joke of it; and Nicky Nasrallah, who proved the living dead can sometimes have mad dancing skills up their rotted sleeves.
One of the most memorable songs included a cheerful duet about shovelling and determination: a good metaphor itself for what this brilliant troupe does.
I'd watch them perform anywhere, any time.