Originally published on Flavorpill.
There’s a foreboding program insert at Blank! The Musical with lots of instructions about how to use the show’s web app, peppered with reassurances that if you don’t have a phone, or if the app doesn’t work, or if you hate audience participation, you’ll be fine, you can just watch the show. You see, Blank! The Musical is an improvised musical, different each night, not unlike what you might see from any of the two-dozen groups showcased at last month’s New York Musical Improv Festival at the Magnet Theater. What sets Blank! apart is the app, a product of Livecube (“the world’s most engaging event app” according to its program bio), allowing the audience to offer suggestions and vote on everything from song titles to lines of dialog, unlike those other plebian improv shows that rely on the audience shouting and applauding to do the same. Well, that and the increased ticket prices ($29-$69) that come with the show’s Off-Broadway address at New World Stages.
As you might have predicted from the foreshadowing in the first sentence of this review, the app did not work for me (although it did for my companion), and the good news is it didn’t much affect how much I enjoyed the show. The app becomes irrelevant after the initial and only round of audience suggestions, but at least that means there’s no sea of glowing screens distracting your eyes during the show. The bad news is I didn’t much enjoy the show at all.
I recognize that the nature of improv means that some nights are better than others, but this troupe fell down on most points. One might forgive a nonsensical improvised “story” if there are enough hilarious zingers, or one might overlook repetitive music if the cast can conjure rhyming lyrics on the spot. Unfortunately, Blank! offered few rhymes and less story, with little variation to the music and only the occasional zinger. With cast members frequently stepping on each other’s lines and serving each other denials (violating the number one rule of improv), the performers spent quite a bit of stage time struggling to regain momentum.
This is not to say the cast was untalented. Nicole C. Hastings skillfully molded her voice and physicality to portray vastly different characters. Tessa Hersh shone early in the show with an improvised song (titled by the audience “Oh No He Didn’t”) before fading largely into the background for the rest of the show. Andrew Knox and Matthew Van Colton came the closest to shepherding the evening’s proceedings into a shape resembling a story. And although the music lacked variety, the three-piece band (Mike Descoteaux leading from the piano, with Daniel Bennett on reeds and Al Vetere on drums) sounded great.
Photo: Back row: Matthew Van Colton, Douglas Widick, Andrew Knox Front row: Nicole C. Hastings, Katie Dufrense, Tessa Hersh.