On the Flynn MainStage
By Lorraine Ryan, Burlington Writers workshop
Unscripted Theater at its Best
By Lorraine Ryan, Burlington Writers Workshop

       The laughs began the second the lights dimmed. Broadway’s Next Hit Musical Emcee Greg Triggs expertly warmed up the Flynn Space with humorous jabs at Vermont and Burlington focusing on our laid-back attitude. We sell maple syrup at our gas stations! We have two kebab restaurants in town harmoniously placed next to each other that Triggs joked would probably cause an international incident in New York City.

       The show ran without intermission for ninety minutes and the performances never lagged. Comedy improv can be a hit or miss experience but there was nothing but high notes for the length of the show.  The four improv actors (Rob Schiffmann, Deb Rabbai, Robert Z. Grant and Katie Hammond) are highly professional and multi-talented performers who seem to have honed the art of transforming a just seen name or phrase into art. Four made up song titles that the audience previously dropped into a glass bowl are randomly chosen by each one of the actors who have to do more than think on their feet. Reading it for the first time they convincingly spin a story about the song and the musical it’s from. That song title grows from a speck to a story with a beginning, middle and end, complete with odd characters, a song and dance number and over-flowing humor. All performers make it all look easy and natural which is evidence of how good they are because humor alone is never easy but when encased in music and a plot (albeit a bizarre one) and spontaneously designed is astounding. An enormous part of Broadway’s Next success has to be attributed to the pianist, Adrien Pellerin whose on the spot score for each song was flawless.

       “Comedy is a muscle,” explained Greg Triggs. “Exercise; get stronger. Take a break, get weaker. Technique suffers without reps. Comedy should look effortless, but it takes a lot of discipline. Like any group effort, the individuals have to bring their best for the team to succeed.” And paramount to their success is teamwork. “Improv is built on the premise that you will be affected by the ideas of others. Allow that to happen and be delighted by the unknown.”

       And this troupe looked to be continually delighted, often laughing at their creations along with the audience. The joy to be performing was evident on each of their faces and it couldn’t help but be passed along to us all.
      Katie Hammond’s chosen song “Hava Gila Monster” (from the musical “What’s that in my closet?” won the coveted Phony award (you know, instead of Tony) but had strong competition from star-crossed lovers themed, “My Mother Loved an Octopus.” Hammond spun the story of a frightened young girl who is friendless in a new town and has a monster living in her closet to boot. Rob Schiffman (the monster) grabbed the song’s title similarity to the Jewish celebratory song “Hava Nagila” and comes out with a Yiddish accent. “You’re cold? There’s a draft? I’ll close the window.”

       It was a wonderful evening that allowed us to forget politics and bad news. Gregg Triggs wrote about his first post September 11 comedy show and worrying about the audience’s reaction. “The overture played, the lights came up, I entered and asked, ‘Who needs a laugh?’” He can still hear the audience cheering. “Instead of concentrating on what separated us, that audience and those actors focused on what brought us together. Perhaps if we did more of that the world would be in a better place.”


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