Frank Booth in the Blue Velvet Lounge | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Frank Booth in the Blue Velvet Lounge


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Frank Booth in the Blue Velvet Lounge, at ImprovOlympic.

It's a comedy fusion that may yet work, making torch songs the theme for improv. Supposedly the first tune--kept secret from the eight members of Frank Booth, the ImprovOlympic home team--sets the subject and tone for the improvised scenes, and the singer's later ballads comment on the action.

The songs, crooned by Tara Davis with smoky passion (if too much tension in the upper register) and supplely accompanied by John Fischer, held their own. But the sketches, inspired by the Fats Waller favorite "Keeping Out of Mischief Now," didn't. True to the title, the men tried to stay out of trouble: an ex-con hoped to stay alive after squealing on a mob boss, another guy had third thoughts before his wedding, a conservative clothing-store owner feared moving with the times, and a brain-damaged lover tried to reassemble his life after being in a coma for six months. The women's thankless task was to keep the guys from messing up.

Done in by slow pacing, low energy, and lame dialogue, the Frank Booth improv artists seemed to be waiting for punch lines that never arrived, the players apparently unable to help one another build a scene. Part of the problem was that for most of the show they were dispersed about the audience and bar, a scattershot arrangement that diluted any comic momentum. A second problem, perhaps, was that Davis's potent torch songs--peaks that made everything else into valleys--inspired a naturalism in the actors that prevented them from taking risks. Whatever, the result was a tepid, sluggish 90-minute show that even standards like "My Funny Valentine" and "Maybe This Time" couldn't save.

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