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They say: “All the magic of a big-studio animated movie musical, without the wicked product placements or 3-D induced headaches. Leave reality behind as the cast of iMusical improvises an entire fantastical – and musical! – cartoon world based on your suggestions.”
Ryan’s Take: Washington Improv Theater has been bringing their improvised musical shtick to the Fringe for a few years now, and in 2011 they’re back with an anthropomorphic twist. In iToonsical, a slightly randy, teensy-bit foul-mouthed send-up of Disney ‘toons, all the performers play inantimate objects — except that they are animated here, a la the lamps and dishware in Beauty and the Beast or the cars in Cars. It’s all good, lighthearted fun that is probably best enjoyed with one’s higher brain functions allowed to take the night off. Wackiness, and some hit-or-miss improvised songcraft, ensues. I spent most of the hour enjoying a sustained mild chuckle peppered with a few big laughs.
Upon entrance audience members are asked to write down a potential starting location, the more specific the better. This performance’s defacto ringleader, Karen Lange, picked two options out of the bowl. The audience was then asked to vote via the age-old method: Applause-O-Meter. Our two options: a Sunglass Hut at an outdoor mall in Southern California and an old age home in Florida. I picked the old-age home but my desires were stymied by the pro-Sunglass Hut mob. Fie!
And so the show proper began, with the brightly t-shirted team throwing ideas out to see what stuck. Any feints toward a sunglasses-based plot were soon dismissed in favor of a spoof of the standard-issue rags-to-riches story involving a spotlight and a surfboard. But fidelity to audience picks really isn’t the point. The fun here (and it is quite fun) is watching the team walk, dance, and sing the tightrope that is long-form improv.
That singing, dancing, Spotlight was embodied by red-shirted Sarah Donnelly, who showed off the night’s best singing voice and a healthy dose of sex appeal. Responsibility for silly things like “plot” and “setting” were shared among the cast, but teal-clad Matt Berman and purple-caparisoned Lange emerged as the players with the greatest ability to evoke an imaginative scene out of the ether. Berman in particular had most of the night’s big laugh lines, showing a knack for an audience-needling running joke and a delivery loaded with just enough snark to give those jokes some bite. Light green Liz Demery got my single biggest laugh of the night as the world’s sweetest doom-crying golf ball. All were served well be surprisingly good technical elements and a fine keyboard score performed live by director and accompanist Travis Ploeger.
Over the course of the night schemes were hatched, romance blossomed between inanimate objects, dreams were dashed only to be redeemed with a-little-help-from-our-friends, and everything ended with a happy tune and a little bit of heroin for our heroine. Of course, little if anything I’ve described in this review will end up on stage if you see the show. That’s the trouble of reviewing improv. But this ought to give you a good idea of the tone of the thing and hint at some of the tropes that will likely pop up. In the end, iToonsical is an hour or so of good, mostly-clean fun from a company (and school!) that’s become something of a local institution.
See it if: You’re looking for some easy laughs but think scripts are for wussies.
Skip it if: The natural ups-and-downs of improv make you itch.