'Broadway's Next Hit Musical' troupe will improvise a comedy show in North Adams


NORTH ADAMS -- The love Illya and Franz shared could be cooked by an un avoidable difference. Illya, the Dutch darling, comes from a long line of pancake makers. And Franz is a "meticulous Ger man whose entire existence is sharp angles" -- shown by his weakness for waffles.

That is how the plot unfolds in the improvised musical comedy "Windmills of the Neth erlands," with the song "Green Pancakes."

It is likely you haven't heard of this production, which opened and closed on the same night. But all of the musicals by the cast of Broadway's Next Hit Musical have singular runs. Do not let the pithy performance schedule cast a negative light on the quality of the work: The short-lived nature of the production is intentional.

Each production staged by the company of Broadway's Next Hit Musical! -- an idea hatched by Deb Rabbai and Rob Schiffmann -- is entirely improvised. The cast invents a new production each time they take the stage.

"A lot of why it is funny is it being created in the moment," said Schiff mann during a joint telephone interview with Rabbai from New York City.

They create each performance with fodder from the audience. So the crowd arriving at the Mas sachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams on Friday at 8 p.m. for the performance will invent and write down song titles, such as "Green Pancakes" above. The cast will select song titles at random, and the actors will create and perform a song to go with them -- on the spot.

Then they will choose a winner from all the songs performed in the first act, and that winning song is the catalyst for an entirely improvised musical, which debuts after that night's intermission.

Previous audience picks, also referred to as "Phony Award Win ning" songs, include "The Sun is Shining, So Stop Your Freaking Whi ning," and "Whoa Bubba Bubba, Me Likey, Likey."

"I find it inspiring when song titles don't have anything specific to what's going on right now," said Rabbai. "Then I don't feel limited to be literal. Something that is average inspires me more greatly."

Sometimes that inspiration leads to mischievous or ironic contrasts.

For instance the musical "3.14 Love" turns around the song "I Like Pi." Then there is the song "My Heart Belongs to an Ex-Con," part of the song book for "Upper Class Blues." Only time will tell if that becomes a 21st anthem, at least among the Bernie Madoff set.

And then there is the musical spine tingler "Deception" with the ditty "What Happened to My Kidney?"

Rabbai and Schiffmann have performed a similar improvisational show structure since 2005, and in 2008 they brought in additional actors. They now work with a core of six actors and a roster of masters of ceremonies and musicians and have performed their work all over the country.

Jonathan Secor, MCLA director of special programs, worked with Rabbai off-Broadway at the Comedy Core during the 1980s. The two recently reconnected after Secor saw a performance of the show in New York City, and Secor decided to invite the group to campus as part of the MCLA Presents! series.

Rabbai and Schiffmann said they have noted patterns to their improvisational choices.

"I set musicals in laboratories and on ports," Rabbai said with a chuckle.

Schiffmann added, "I go through phases. I'll set musicals in factories Recently names keep coming up "Mc" something. There is no logical reason that those are the things we come up with."

Carrie Saldo can be reached via her web site www.carriesaldo.com


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