The Cambridge Geek

Off Book: The Improvised Musical

I've got a carefully hidden secret. I might like musical podcasts.

Which is why I decided to have a bit of a listen to this one.

Off Book: The Improvised Musical doesn't really need much explaining, given its title. Each episode is a separate musical, thrown together from a couple of suggestions from the guest of the week. If they do any planning prior to that, I've never noticed it, but I would suspect they don't.

The regular hosts Jessica McKenna and Zach Reino, are polished improvisers, and their different guest every episode have no small talent. As such, they put out an hour of entertainment in what seems like a relatively easy manner.

Each musical is wildly different, though occasionally has a certain bias due to the fact that it's put together by theatre people. In particular, note the first, Shrugging Destiny, based around an acting school's performance, and the most recent, about stealing the song Let It Go and putting it in every other musical.

I've listened through the first three, a few in the mid range, and the most recent, and what surprised me is actually how consistent it is. I'd expected significant improvement, as you often see on podcasts, but I think we must now be in the age in which professionalism is there from the start. Podcasts put together by those with a performance background skip all the problems that were prevalent when they first got going. The structure is very polished.

Of course, being improvised, the musicals themselves aren't quite as perfect. I can't imagine the lip reading trick is any easier when you're singing rather than just talking. Luckily, the hosts are very aware it's all a bit silly, and though there's more than a little corpsing at times, they've mastered the art of the self-referential aside, pointing out their own mistakes without breaking the fourth wall.

Admittedly, if you need carefully scripted work, this definitely isn't for you. You can feel them working out where the next song's coming from, presumably with heavy glances and no small amount of eyebrow raising in the studio, and it's sometimes painful when one of them leans heavily on a feed line and the other misses it.

Still, when it goes well, it's an absolute joy. The quality of their top end songs is spectacular, and weirdly I still find myself singing Dang Dang Dang Y'know. It's one that I perhaps shouldn't have binged, because you might find the scrappy style gets a little tiring after ten or so hours of it, but it's definitely going to stay on my regular listen schedule. One a week will be lovely. (Assuming you like musicals.)

Score 4

Tagged: Audio fiction Comedy Cast Musical Improv Anthology