Dallas — One quality that sets Stomping Ground Comedy Theater apart from other comedy theaters is their creativity in and willingness to put their special guests in different formats and situations. If Joanne Q. Famouscomic is coming to Stomping Ground, they are going to put her in an improv show Friday, her own show Saturday, and perhaps a game show on Sunday. Throw in a couple of workshops too.
That’s the case with Stacey Smith, a Chicago improv superstar fresh off a European tour. On Thursday, her first night in town, she teamed with her partner Matt Castellvi and Stomping Grounders Greg Mihalik and Lindsay Goldapp to bring us some musical Improv in the form of “Fraudway.”
It’s a very novel approach to musical improv. With audience assistance, they pick a random hit Broadway show (Waitress, as it happened), and present a cast recording listing of it. They then craft a story and sing songs based on nothing more than the song titles from the cast recording—no references to the underlying play or original songs, and therefore no need for the audience members to have seen it.
Castellvi and Smith’s talent are obvious in this VERY challenging format; it’s hard not to awkwardly shoehorn in song subjects to fit both the title and the overarching logic of the world being created.
But it’s a pitfall the group mostly avoided, and what impressed me more was how much Goldapp and Mihalik were up to the task. They aren’t the ones touring Europe, but they are as funny and as talented as the ones who are.
That isn’t the only way I was impressed with the locals. Fraudway was preceded by SG’s Sound Garden, another musical improv troupe, and laughed just as much for their set as I did Fraudway, if not more. They start the show by creating a harmonious sound collage in an organic way, and let the beats and melodies inform the musical direction of the rest of the set. They all managed to create unique, memorable characters, and had such an outstanding sense of timing and pace. Sound Garden hummed in more ways than one.
The opener was Stomping Ground’s current advanced conservatory class, which for me was another hit (and kudos to Stomping Ground to let students share a bill with a star). All players embodied strong characters, which is a hallmark emblem of good improv. As an improviser myself, I was so very resistant for so long to the trueism that strong characters are more important in improv than funny ideas. I get it now though, and it’s a lesson Stomping Ground teaches well.
Come this weekend (shows and/or workshops Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) for Smith and Castellvi. Stay for the local folks.
Friday at 8 p.m., Stacey Smith presents her show Stace Jam: A Solo Musical Improv Show, for one night only.