When I walked into Make it a Musical on Saturday, “You Can’t Stop The Beat” from Hairspray was blaring over the sound-system, and I knew this was going to be my kind of show. As a music theatre nerd I’m probably the show’s target audience, but Make It A Musical turned out to be the kind of infectious fun that will leave most Fringe-goers smiling.
The show’s premise is simple: guaranteed silliness. The audience suggests a movie, and the performers – a group of improv comedians – turn it into a musical on the spot. The result is messy in the best way possible, and will have you wanting to sing along – though, that’s hard to do, since the cast is literally writing the songs as they singing them.
The cast and movie change every night, but the nuts and bolts stay the same. When I saw the show, the audience-suggested movie was the 2018 Netflix rom-com To All The Boys I Loved Before. The cast seemed mostly unfamiliar with the movie and used only its basic premise – a high school girl writes love letters to five boys and her sister mails the letters on her behalf – to create the show. There was no time for planning or plotting – the performers simply dove right in, improvising scenes and songs and trying to somehow arrive at a fitting conclusion at the end of the hour.
I haven’t seen the original To All The Boys, but this version was entertaining as hell. Performer Lisa Drupsteen took charge as protagonist Lara, impressively belting several improvised ballads that took us through her emotional journey from awkward hopeless romantic to egomaniacal mean girl and back again. Adina Katz was hilarious as the mom who pressures Lara’s sister into sending the letters (I’m pretty sure this doesn’t happen in the original) and often jumped in to set the story back on course when the other performers didn’t know where to take it – at one point, she literally told a character to “reinstate what you want.” Joel Fink, too, was endearingly nerdy as Lara’s crush Jim and similarly skilled at taking charge of an aimless scene – so much so that Jim ended up getting the girl, contrary to how the movie actually ends.
The real star, though, is musical director John Gilbert, who guides the whole show with his incredible piano playing. He always seemed to know the perfect moment to come in with his accompaniment – all the performers really had to do was find the right key. Which is easier said than done, as the cast’s singing abilities are fairly all over the place. Drupsteen and Katz are excellent, but others have a shakier time hitting the high notes. There can also be a fair bit of vamping as the cast figures out where a song or a bit is going; some tunes never quite hit their stride.
But even when they don’t, it’s exhilarating watching the performers try. So much of the fun is just in seeing them test different things out. When it all comes together, it’s that much more satisfying – during Saturday’s performance, a show and tell scene where the boys read out their letters from Lara turned into a show-stopping number with all the performers in sync and at their peak. The show did start to sag a little two-thirds of the way through, but that made it all the more exciting when they found their conclusion.
Make It A Musical might not have the snappiest comedy or pitch-perfect music but it has an incredible amount of heart and energy. The performers all look like they’re having a great time, which makes it hard not to as an audience member. You’re rooting for them, laughing with them, and sometimes even joining in, if you can figure out the tune. This is not the show for anyone who can’t stand the rough edges of improv or the cheery nature of musicals. But it’s the exact kind of show that Fringe is meant for – a scrappy, ridiculous, rollicking good time. If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, Make It A Musical will hit all the right notes.
“WHO IT’S FOR”
This is the perfect show for improv and/or music theatre enthusiasts, but also for anyone just looking for some silly fun – if you’re hopping between serious shows, it’s an excellent palate cleanser.
Stormbringer presents “Make it a Musical”
at the 29th St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival
Performances: June 6 – 16, 2019
Venue: 07 – Théâtre Impro Montréal
3697 Saint-Laurent, Montréal, H2X 2V7
Admission: $5 – 8 | Ages 12+
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