The cast of Anarchy improvises a full-fledged rock musical | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The cast of Anarchy improvises a full-fledged rock musical

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One night, the cast of the improvised rock musical Anarchy receives the suggestion “Applebee’s.” The ensemble members step out one by one to sing a verse, each ending with “Can I get an appetizer?” As the stage fills, the refrain becomes more harmonic. The appropriately named Mike Gospel concludes by belting the phrase at a powerful volume. His vibrato echoes through the theater, and the show kicks off on that strong, heightened note that makes it clear: this is an improvised musical, not musical improv that aims for cheap rhymes and cleverness.

Anarchy runs a tight hour, trimmed by an opening act; the night I attended, the talented comedic singer-songwriter Becca Brown performed. There is little time for needless banter, so the cast skims over chatter to quickly arrive at the scene-closing, show-stopping musical numbers that move the plot along. When one Applebee’s employee tells his parents he’s leaving their small town in pursuit of a lasting legacy, a song immediately begins. Dad wishes his son would play center for the Indiana Pacers; Mom expresses fury that she’s being abandoned. The underlying score, improvised by a guitarist and a pianist, hits minor keys, casting a plaintive tone to punctuate the parents’ disappointment.

The production quality remains high, thanks to musicians and behind-the-scenes technicians who alternately follow the lead of the improvisers or steer the proceedings with lighting changes. The isolated Applebee’s restaurant always appears dim, which obscures facial expressions and contrasts with the brightness of more cathartic scenes. Anarchy also includes a painter off to the side who works on crude portraits and landscapes throughout the show. He’s a distraction when the ensemble musical numbers should be stealing the show.   v

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