“I four-letter word you!” [VIDEO BELOW]

July 24, 2009

“One Night Stand” is like no musical you’ve ever seen.  It’s like no musical anyone’s ever seen—literally. The seven young performers taking the stage at the Hudson Theatre each night put on a full one hour heart-tugging, belly-laughing, jaw-dropping Broadway musical—and it is 100 percent improvised on the spot.

It’s a performance you need to see to believe.

Jonah Platt, the troupe’s founder, asks the audience at the beginning of the evening to shout out a title, a title song and a location for the opening scene.  I watched on opening night as audience members weighed in with titles ranging from “Bran Flakes” to “Power Rangers” to “Tres Miserables.”

He latched onto Power Rangers, then the song title “Love Forever,” then the location: a fountain.

Keyboardist and musical director Andrew Resnick struck up the improvised overture, and suddenly a new musical theatre piece was born, unfolding over (roughly) three acts, featuring love songs, action, a show-stopper, and some laugh-out-loud word twists and lyrics.

This was One Night Stand’s 60th musical—each one different. Platt, whom I spoke with briefly after the show, said the troupe is exposed to hundreds of musicals, dissecting the beats, and then just gets up there and…wings it. How does he know what title will work best?

“Well, let’s see, what were my choices tonight?” he said. “Power Rangers or Bran Flakes? That was kind of easy.”

Platt founded the troupe in January 2007.  They’ve performed at The Groundlings Theatre and twice at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, where their 2008 run sold out, and the troupe was named “#1 Thing To Do” by the Edinburgh Evening News.

I’d put them pretty far up on my list, too. The one hour flies by, and I marveled at how they managed to turn the standard beats of the musical to serve their comedic purposes. The touching love song sung with a sly wink, the de riguer show stopper belted out with all the requisite verve and crowd-rousing appeal—The lesson is that on Broadway the music does more of the heavy emotional lifting than you might realize. I got wrapped up in one moment until it dawned on me: I’m listening to a song about an overweight Power Ranger.  I’ve shelled out 150 bucks for balcony seats to long-rehearsed shows on Broadway that didn’t have anywhere near the freshness, fun and creativity of One Night Stand (I’m looking at you, “Movin’ Out”).

There’s a high-wire feel to the night, since the audience doesn’t know the next word, and neither do the performers. And yet they manage to pull it off,  and at times turn in lyrics that would stand up on the printed page.  It’s a family show, too, at least the night I saw it—no easy laughs from four-letter words or raunch (though in my favorite made up song of the night, a woman sings to her lover, “I four-letter word you.”)

Platt started his improv work while a student at Harvard-Westlake, where he founded the Harvard-Westlake Scene Monkeys.  He went on to work on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Office and Parks and Recreation. His father, Marc Platt, is the executive producer of One Night stand.  The elder Platt, who produced a pretty successful Broadway show of his own called “Wicked,” was in his son’s corner on opening night—taking notes on a yellow legal pad and videoing the revelry from the back of the 30 seat theatre.

You’re on stage, dozens of people are watching, you don;’t know your lines, now GO!— to me that’s pretty much the definition of a nightmare.  But the performers all seem to relish their nightly leap into the unknown. They are, along with Platt, Quinn Beswick, Kobi Libii, Josh Margolin, Samantha Martin, and Mollie Taxe—if you’re a HollywoodJew of the agent persuasion, get down to the Hudson for first dibs.  I could see any or all of them again in a completely different musical—in fact, I’d only be able to see them in a completely different musical.

One Night Stand runs until Aug. 22 at the Hudson Guild Theatre. For information go to www.onenightstandmusical.com.

See a video clip here:

ONS “I Want Out” from Josh Margolin on Vimeo.


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