Music was the theme Friday at the Dallas Comedy Festival with the Shock T's from Chicago and Villain: The Musical hitting high marks on their song humor, and Frankenmatt's high-octane soundtrack to American Imperil being a surprise score.
If you liked Jed and Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog with Neil Patrick Harris, then you would have loved Villain: The Musical. Anchored by Twinprov's Buck and Clint Vrazel and musician Kyle Gossett, only one other of the Oklahoma ensemble came down to Dallas for the show: singing/acting dynamo Cristela Carrizales. The quartet used theatrical dialogue to weave mini monologues, sometimes spoken and sometimes sung, with songs to fashion a one-act musical from the perspective of the antagonist; ie, the bad guy.
Villain: The Musical started their act with Buck prompting suggestions from the audience using the guise of a forgetful storyteller needing help filling in the blanks. It was an enjoyable way to get a baseline of who-what-when-where-why for the musical. Setting up such a thorough foundation, rather than the usual one-word improv launch, greatly improved the product.
Off they went, with Villain members spinning the tale of a redneck dentist (played by Buck) on a killing spree to win the approval of his gay romance with Steve (played by Carrizales, yes it got confusing) from the violence-loving Ozark family patriarch (played by Clint) who ultimately went on to that great NASCAR race in the sky. Okies making fun of Arkies—that's rich! A subtheme involved marauding bears, one of which had its heart cut out and consumed. The liberal blood flow was commented on and the plot deftly turned around to a "We Are the World" singalong conclusion as the dentist accepted the error of his ways. Going well beyond the hoedown improv-song format of Whose Line Is It Anyway, Villain's songs had real arrangement and vocal harmonies laced with zingers.
Shock T's of Chicago scored with their first Dallas appearance. The trio of Sarah Shockey on vocals, Tim Dunn on vocals and Tyler Paterson on guitar and vocals, crafts a dry Flight of the Conchords type musical insanity that keys on the intense, direct honesty of the lyrics.
The trip started out with an improv-generated song about a spatula, which was serviceable enough. But Shock T's truly excelled in the polished musical numbers. Not many acts can even think of a theme like a 1500s-era alcoholic, much less pull it off, but they did, peaking with a line about a fellow exposing himself at an execution "to show how a real man is hung." A little lighter was the popular "Dude, Come On" in the vein of SNL's Weekend Update piece "Really?" about a guy oblivious to his gayness and included the exhortation: "You're not an ironing board, get out of the closet." Too cute was the tune about the "last guy who buys DVDs" (instead of downloading) who "still pays his bills by mail" and happens to be Shockey's father.
The peak was a complicated song depicting a couple's imploding relationship as they try to strengthen their tenuous ties with a series of bad decisions like getting married, adopting a dog and having a baby. They cope by watching a lot of movies and other activities that don't involve talking to each other. Poignant and funny, the song evoked many sympathetic groans of recognition from the audience.
Frankenmatt aced as expected with the sketch-and-song American Imperil, somewhat downsized from the full-on production seen at The Second City Hollywood. Frank Caeti and Matt Craig played a variety of characters, but focus on Craig's naïve man-boy who saw a rising politician on late-night TV, played by Caeti, and drove across country with a friend to meet him. Road-trip shenanigans included a visit to Chick-fil-A with jingoistic names for sandwiches and such that accurately portrayed the chain's political leanings.
But the core was the contrast between an apathetic, self-involved populace and politicians more than willing to exploit that. Subtle points about emotional isolation were made in a piece about an American dad who seemed to decry his children's preference of texting to talking, but ended up being a fan if it because family members left him alone with his TV.
After a scene of two right-wing pols in a hot tub letting passion override dogma, at least for a moment, Craig's character ultimately discovered the truth when his political crush presented an acceptance speech with all the honesty you could wish for, thanking his family for "supporting my megalomania" and explaining how now that he had attendees' votes he would be focusing on appeasing corporations for campaign funds. The twist was that the politician was more honest than the Chick-fil-A eating, Walmart-shopping Craig.
There was still plenty of improv on hand from Pavlov's Dogs, Ape Rally, Roadside Couch and Atlantic Pacific Billy sitting in for the much-missed Mannix. It was improv at its best, with stories slowly unfurling with subtle references, much like good fiction, revealing plot, character, relationships and even physical characteristics.
The Dallas Comedy Festival continues at the Dallas Comedy House with improv and sketch humor on Saturday, headlined by Dasariski. Sunday features a comedy panel discussion and a best-of show. Check out TheaterJones exclusive coverage here.