Open Call | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Zeitgeist Theater, at Royal George Theatre Center Gallery.

It seems an inevitable premise for an interactive improv show from the inventors of Flanagan's Wake: renowned director Zdzislav ("Ziggy") Sczerba-Smith, inventor of "theater in the surround," is casting a yet-unnamed musical for the Murky Future Theatre, the roles to be filled in a cattle-call audition. Audience members receive name tags as they sign up for possible (voluntary) performances and are encouraged to read lines or sing songs. In the show's first half, real patrons and plants try out for roles that are then worked into the second half's mini musical.

Executed with good humor and refreshingly little bitchiness, Zeitgeist Theater's clever idea doesn't sink or swim on the basis of audience participation alone: there's enough structured comedy to keep the laughs rolling. Pouring Method into their madness, the Zeitgeist zanies regale us with astounding solo bits: Tom Hanigan erupting in a Steppenwolf-style scratch-and-sniff paraphrase of "Casey at the Bat," Jimmy Binns delivering an unctuously mannered aria from Jesus Christ Superstar, Patricia Musker crooning a ballad in about five different singing styles and as many keys, and Rick Almada offering a tortured excerpt from The Odd Couple that adds extra consonants to every other word.

The improvised musical, complete with generic opening and closing numbers, came off hitchlessly, except for some scene stealing and scenery chewing by an audience member playing--and becoming!--a chimpanzee. But Jack Bronis's Ziggy knows how to turn ham into bacon. Open Call may soon have an open run.

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