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Music Box Improvised Musical
Published on Wednesday, 11 May 2011

5 stars

Upstairs at Three and Ten (venue website)
17 May, 10:00pm-10:50pm; 7 May, 11:55pm-0:45am
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Suitable for age 15+ only.

Oh no, not another song'n'dance improv troupe!  Yes, but this one's brilliant.  In a genre that's grown so popular it sports its own clichés, Music Box stand out for their ambition, their variety, their creativity... and the fact they actually can sing.

To me, mind you, all improvised musicals are feats beyond comprehension; how can you possibly pluck a tune, lyrics, and coherent plot all from thin air?  Much depends on source material, shouted out by the audience at the start, and on the night I visited they were lucky - a love story set in a Swedish aquarium just couldn't fail to be funny.  But my goodness, they made the most of their good fortune, creating a storyline which actually meant something and characters who made me care.

And I've never seen musical improv tackle such a range of styles.  All the stage-musical genres were there, from the wistful slow ballad through to a portentous bone-chiller about the psychology of (ahem) a fish.  The octopus hip-hop left me helpless with laughter, and the obligatory showstopping number wove a single strand from all the threads, revealing that the choruses from earlier songs had been planned to mesh together all along.

There was a bit too much gap-filling talking, and the lyrics sometimes disappointingly refused to rhyme.  But this is the purest style of improv - with no host and no off-stage conferring - so it's unreasonable to expect perfection.  Instead, Music Box offer something even more rewarding: a precious sense of shared adventure, as the seemingly impossible takes shape before our eyes.

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