Sondheim UnScripted | Impro MelbourneLeft - Rama Nicholas

Sondheim UnScripted is a completely improvised musical that is inspired by the entire range of Stephen Sondheim’s diverse output. From the poetic, wry lyrics of Gypsy and West Side Story, to the comic antics of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum as well as the dark, hurricane that is Sweeney Todd.

Sondheim UnScripted pays tribute to one of Broadway’s most beloved artists – but is based entirely on audience suggestions.

The company behind the show, Impro Melbourne, is a group of talented improvisers, capable of turning the simplest of phrase into an hour long piece of entertainment, which is exactly what they did.

Right from the start, the cast comes out and asks for ideas, titles, suggestions for the musical and in the end (last night) chose the title: “Burger Fever”. Of course, they did. What could be more ‘musical’ in flavour?

They say Sondheim learned his trade of writing musicals from Oscar Hammerstein who made Sondheim write musicals on subjects which were completely UNmusical because if he could do that, he could write a musical about anything. I am sure Burger Fever would have been high on Oscar’s list as a subject to give Stephen in those early days of his training.

The cast went about their work, establishing key characters, motivations, wants, obstacles, scenes, sequences and songs, simply and spontaneously crafting a musical in front of our eyes. With a substantial sized cast, the thing that surprised me the most is that none of them were superfluous. All cast members had a significant part to play in terms of the plot and providing laughs. They were all fantastic and contributed something solid (and sometimes unforgettable) to the performance.

As entertaining as the show was, there were elements missing from the show actually advertised. As a Sondheim fanatic, I felt the show was more a spontaneous musical than a spontaneous Sondheim musical. I certainly heard evidence of clever lyrics, witty sequences and Sondheim’s dark style, but there are plenty of other clever, witty, dark writers of musical theatre, so ultimately, the show didn’t feel specifically Sondheim. Nor did it feel like a tribute to Sondheim, but rather a tribute to musicals generally. The promo also says the show is based entirely on audience suggestions, though there was only one audience suggestion used in the show – the title. I know it feels a petty point, and it didn’t affect the quality of the show, but I did think about it in terms of what is being advertised and what was provided.  

Congratulations to Impro Melbourne for having the courage to stage such an event. If you want to see some serious talent on stage, never to be repeated, because that’s the idea, go see Sondheim Unscripted.


Impro Melbourne presents
Sondheim UnScripted

Venue: The Ballroom, Lithuanian Club, 44 Errol Street, North Melbourne
Dates/Times: Friday 26, Saturday 27 September at 10.15pm
Sunday 28 September at 9.15pm;
Tuesday 30 September to Saturday 3 October at 10.15pm
Running Time: 60 minutes
Tickets: Adult:$20, Concession: $15, Tightarse Tuesday: All tickets $15
Bookings: 9660 9666 or www.melbournefringe.com.au

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