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Kris Erickson directs the cast of "An Improvised Musical" at at a rehearsal at The Upfront Theatre on June 22, 2015. Photo by Jesse Nichols

A staccato piano score begins as the Upfront Theatre mainstage cast sings the opening chorus to “The Sexiest Fish Hatchery,” an improvised musical conceived from suggestions shouted mere moments prior. For the cast of “An Improvised Musical,” this spontaneity will be one of the few things routine about this performance.

The next night will likely be completely different. This is the goal of “An Improvised Musical,” a full-length musical play where everything – the story, jokes, songs and piano scoring – is made up on the spot, said Kris Erickson, artistic director for the Upfront Theatre.

  “An Improvised Musical” will be showing at The Upfront Theatre on Fridays and Saturdays from July 3 to Aug. 1.

While the theater has done short weekend-long trial musicals in 2014, this will be their first five-week showing, Erickson said.

Erickson hopes this project will take the cast to the next level of improvisation.

“You can do improv scenes and change it up and put different genres behind it, which we’ve done, but once you add music to something it puts it on a whole new level and we’d love to tackle that challenge,” Erickson said.

The cast will ask the audience to suggest a location and an adjective, which they will use to create the title of that night’s musical, Erickson said.

Erickson said the cast rehearses weekly, typically starting with vocal and theatrical exercises before practicing the songs and scenes. The rehearsals are intended to condition the cast for improvising together and to prepare them for spontaneous performances, Erickson said.

During one of their rehearsals, the cast performed titles like “The Wonder of the Holy Tropics” and “The Mystery of the Movie Rental Store”.

Steve Barnes, a 2006 Western music education graduate, will be one of the pianists improvising the musical score.

Jake Barrow plays Gunther Troutmouth at a rehearsal of "An Improvised Musical." Photo by Jesse Nichols

“The improvised musical is considered by many who dabble in this art subset to be one of the heights,” Barnes said. “Sometimes people say it’s the most fun thing they could do when they’re improvising.”

For Barnes, these performances will be will be more than simple music improvisation. His scoring will play an essential role in guiding the story, Barnes said.

Barnes first got involved with improvised musicals through the Dead Parrots Society, Western’s improv comedy club.

Erickson, who was artistic director for the Dead Parrots Society during his time at Western, said many former Dead Parrots Society members work with the Upfront Theatre after graduating.

Jake Barrow, a 2013 Western Fairhaven graduate, is one of several cast members who got involved with the Upfront Theatre after performing with the Dead Parrots Society during college.

Barrow said the Upfront Theatre was his next step after graduating and gave him an outlet to continue his interest in improv theater. 

Maddie Nueman, a 2011 Western English graduate, has performed with the Upfront main stage cast every weekend for two years.

Steve Barnes improvises a piano score at "An Improvised Musical" rehearsal. Photo by Jesse Nichols

Nueman said trust and friendship are essential principles for their improv cast, and she said she values a strong relationship with the cast both inside and outside of the theater.

“We have such trust and cohesion as a group that I trust that it will always work out,” Nueman said. “They’re like my family. They’re people I see every single week. They see me at my best, they see me at my worst.”

Erickson said a strong cast relationship is essential for a good performance.

“There’s a sort of energy we can give each other while we’re singing songs,”

Erickson said. “It’s something that’s not quite seen, but it’s there.”

Erickson hopes that this will be the first of many improvised musicals that the Upfront Theatre produces.

For more information visit The Upfront website at

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