Chicago Theater Review: BEST MUSICAL! (Porchlight Music Theatre at Up Comedy Club)

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by Samantha Nelson on November 1, 2013

in Theater-Chicago


In The Book of Mormon, Trey Parker and Matt Stone proved that subject matter in musical theatre is a lot less important than sticking to the structural formula. There’s the ensemble intro that sets the scene, the romantic duet, the protagonist’s transformative moment and the final song that ties everything together and sets up the curtain call.  The talented ensemble of Best Musical! A Completely Improvised best_musical-porchlight-2Musical Comedy has learned that same lesson, and it lets them put together musical numbers on the fly based on the weirdest song titles the audience members can imagine.

The first act of the show has the audience watching The Besties, an awards show honoring the best musicals you’ve never heard of.  Cast members pull suggestions out of a jar and then have to take a prompt like “Alligator Lover” and decide what show it’s from and where it fits into the plot before launching right into it with music provided by the show’s creator, Matthew Loren Cohen.

After all the “nominees” are performed, audience applause determines the show that will be performed during the second act. As fun as the rapid fire plot and genre changes of the first half is, the second section is where the show really shines as the performers nimbly stitch together the tropes of musical theater and themes they’ve just come up with to make everything somehow work. Another reason the second act is so much stronger is that it doesn’t involve host Mitchell Fain, who’s seemingly best_musical-porchlight-13limited to making jokes about being gay and name-dropping musical theater stars. If he’s trying to channel lackluster award show hosts, he gets it right, but I would have rather he talked less and let the actors make more music.

From his place at the piano to the side of the stage, Cohen sets the tone, whether it’s a crooning ballad or a suspenseful act ender. If rhythm or grammar get butchered for the sake of making a lyric rhyme, it’s easy to forgive the actors, who always seem to be having so much fun. Joey Bland resembles a young Seth Rogen with his dry wit and Lauren Dowden and Sarah Hoffman manage to slip easily into sweet and emotional roles, whether as love interests or conflicted family members. The best work is done by Brendan Dowling, who lets loose with his twisted sense of humor whether by casting Hoffman as a character with a limp and then making her dance or throwing a wrench in the plot of a small town family drama by having his character brutally murder a romantic rival and wear his skin.

One weakness in the formula is that the song from the first act is reprised in its entirety in the second. Yes, repetition is an important part of musical theater and it’s interesting to see how much of the lyrics the actors were able to retain after making best_musical-porchlight-10them up on the fly. But I think the show would be better served by introducing the number to see where it would appear in the structure of the show and then quickly fading out to move onto some new material. Comedy is rarely as funny the second time around.

While there are some very nice bits of singing, the real draw here is seeing the ensemble’s creative power on display. They turn “Your Boobs are on Backwards” into a surprisingly sweet story about a girl discovering her mother is a transsexual, and then turn “Don’t Go Near the Screen Door Grandma or You Might Strain Yourself” into a remarkably catchy tune. That’s talent any musical theater writer can envy.

best_musical-porchlight-3photos by Jeannie Lukow

Best Musical!
A Completely Improvised Musical Comedy
Porchlight Music Theatre
Up Comedy Club, 230 W. North Ave.
scheduled to end on November 6, 2013
for tickets call 312.662.4562
or visit

for more info, visit Porchlight

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