When was the last time you were told to keep your phone on in the theater? Isn’t there, wasn’t there a law about that in New York City? Not at Blank! The Musical, the new Off-Broadway show that opened November 17 at New World Stages. At Blank! having your phone on is actually all part of the experience...in a good way.
I don’t want to give it all away, but the folks at Blank! have teamed up with the app developers at Livecube to create a very clever interactive experience playing off the improv set-up format that calls for the audience to shout out words, places, and lines to get the show rolling. The Blank!/Livecube app brings everyone to the playground, simultaneously adding to the fun and creating a unique theater going experience to be sure.
Of course you can have all the technology in the world, but it wouldn’t mean anything if it wasn’t backed up by real human talent and Blank! has it. First, like every great improv show you have to have a great host, a leader, a first class concierge who kicks off the festivities and walks you through what could be a wee bit of tech overload for the uninitiated and smartphone compromised. T.J. Mannix is that man. Equal parts anchorman, comedian and expert improviser with a voice like a dream -- yes, he sings too -- T.J. Mannix is that perfect quadruple threat.
Joining him on stage is a cast comprised of some of the best musical theater improvisers in the United States. They are young, vibrant, hilarious and insanely talented performers. Each is capable of taking the leading role or supporting the ensemble because they are, in fact, a very tight ensemble. The Blank! cast is clearly well practiced at executing improvised scenes and songs in the language of the the major theater composers and lyricists. In fact, the night that I saw the show, they crafted songs on the spot in the styles of Jason Robert Brown, Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim, and Frank Wildhorn, with a bit of rap thrown in for good measure.
Supporting the performance from the pit are three stellar improvising musicians, led by music director Mike Descoteaux. Their seamless, on-the-spot composition is astounding. These craftsmen pay homage to every composer you can imagine in songs and incidental music. If you are well versed in musical theater you will certainly enjoy the subtle and not so subtle musical jokes that pepper the evening’s show.
But wait! The improv fun doesn’t end there. The stage manager is calling cues on the fly, the lighting and sound technicians are adjusting and crafting moment by moment. It’s a theater full of artists at the top of their game and on the razor's edge of performance art. Blank! The Musical is more than just a musical improv show or night at the theater, it is a one of a kind theatrical sculpture as ephemeral as it is dynamic and great silly fun.
Blank! The Musical is at New World Stages through December 14. It is created by Michael Girts, T.J. Shanoff (director) and Mike Descoteaux (musical director) and executive produced by Matt Britten and stars Matthew Van Colton, Katie Dufresne, Nicole C. Hastings, Tessa Hersh, Andrew Knox, Douglas Widick, and T.J. Mannix For more information and tickets go to www.blankthemusical.com
Through December 14 at New World Stages.