matt baram and ron pederson
When one thinks of Carnegie Hall it is often with the connotation of affluence and glamour, an evening of music exceptional and exquisite in quality and performers draped in class and decadence. The Carnegie Hall Show, produced by The National Theatre of the World at the Bread and Circus in Kensington Market each Wednesday at 9:30pm is a cheeky homage to the idea of the historical retrospective show that uses improvisation and irreverent wit to deflate the aura of sophistication associated with Carnegie Hall and replacing it instead with spontaneous gags and a Vaudevillian ambiance.
It is interesting that in the year and a half since The Carnegie Hall Show first burst onto the stage at the Bread and Circus Theatre it has become increasingly refined (while still embracing its proclivity for being an anarchic free-for-all) and currently the show can boast of featuring some of the greatest improvisers, singers, and other wildly diverse, but continuously impressive, variety acts in this city.
Last Wednesday The Carnegie Hall Show was a fortified Mecca of talent as renowned improviser Colin Mochrie joined Matt Baram, Chris Gibbs, Ron Pederson and Naomi Snieckus for a rollicking good time as The Carnegie Hall Show played homage to souls. It goes without saying that Colin Mochrie is one of our country’s most ingenious and treasured improvisers, and he could justifiably be one of those performers who steamrolls into a set and hijacks all the laughs, but instead he is a performer who perpetually gives not only to his audience, but also to his fellow improvisers. The entire ensemble dynamic of The Carnegie Hall Show on Wednesday evening was absolutely impeccable and actually quite miraculous as Mochrie, Baram, Gibbs, Pederson and Snieckus were able to work so smoothly in tandem with one another to create the illusion of complete mayhem.
There was ample cause for delight in the celebration of souls. Pederson’s Carnegie Hall persona “Ronald,” an alcoholic with a presence akin to Judy Garland, who continues to awkwardly emerge and withdraw in and out of the closet as the weeks go on, was especially intensely hyperactive last week. Chris Gibbs was more vociferous than ever with his procession of puns. As the weeks progress, the Carnegie Hall Show players are becoming more and more comfortable with improvising not only songs, but entire musical production numbers, especially with the incomparable impromptu piano master Waylen Miki at the helm, which allows all the performers, but especially Pederson, to pull increasingly intricate and stylized songs right out of the hat. It was also particularly inspired to watch the Carnegie Hall Show players parody their other (hit) show Impromptu Splendor with an improvised scene from a play written by an angry Arthur Miller about which Pederson said impishly, “Why was it improvised if it was a play? We’ll find out!”
Matt Baram (who was also side-achingly hilarious as a Moon Lobster during the Retrospective) directed Carnegie Hall’s Live Improvised Radio Play The Dark Room, which has the propensity to sometimes derail into sheer Pandemonium, but this week featured an incredibly strong performance by Mochrie as Jeremy, a destitute twine salesman and Snieckus as his deranged wife Olympia. Ron Pederson, as young son Marmalade, also revealed that he would be the perfect candidate to replace Wayne Allwine as the voice of Mickey Mouse for Walt Disney Studios.
And speaking of the beloved classic characters of childhood, none other than the renowned Canadian puppeteer John Pattison returned to The Carnegie Hall Show for his seventh stint, this time bringing with him his manic, but utterly endearing, one hundred percent Canadian dragon puppet Durango. A former Muppet Performer (yes, you read that correctly, a MUPPET Performer) from FRAGGLE ROCK, Pattison and Durango’s stand up set was hilarious, oddly nostalgic and absolutely brilliantly orchestrated. With such talent and brilliance as John Pattison living and working in Canada, one would think that the CBC or YTV would be clamouring to develop a Canadian television program for children with him reminiscent of classics such as Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock and Mr. Dressup. On the other hand, if Pattison, Durango and The Carnegie Hall Show Players collided, the result would be akin to Jim Henson’s exquisite Muppet Show.
We were also treated to the musical stylings of Luke Mochrie and Ely Henry who sang The Beatles tune “I’ll Follow the Sun” accompanying themselves on ukuleles. Mochrie and Henry have a fantastic dynamic with one another and such sweet voices. They perform very independent of one another, but when their vocals collide in dazzling harmony, the result is magical. Their interaction throughout the performance was minimal, but even in a meeting of their eyes, the result was both oddly hilarious and genuinely endearing. But, don’t just take my word for it, you can watch their performance for yourself via the magic of YouTube; and don’t forget to Subscribe to their channel LukeAndEly for more warm, fuzzy videos.
Of course, some of what makes The Carnegie Hall Show so absurd is the recycled jokes that have become habitual each week, all of which are plays on the conventions of the Retrospective Show. As the show continues to evolve in sophistication each week, the dramaturg in me wonders if perhaps the Carnegie Hall Show players would benefit from doing some fresh research on the televised programs that they are parodying, as well as perhaps on commercials and advertisements created between 1910 and 1960. I think that widening the pool of historical reference for The Carnegie Hall Show would provide these four already brilliant and industrious imaginations with more fuel for their fire and open up the opportunity for more specificity in both the Retrospective and the Radio Play.
The Carnegie Hall Show is quickly emerging as the place for the clever and the talented to play on Wednesday evenings in Toronto. Tuxedos. Booze. Jazz. A Wild Party and Laugh Fest. It is an evening so ritzy, even Irving Berlin might show up.
As an aside, if you have ever had your mind blown by The National Theatre of the World’s other hit show Impromptu Splendor, a show where Matt Baram, Naomi Snieckus and Ron Pederson improvise fully self-contained one act plays in the style of specific famous playwrights, and you believe that this show is an example of extraordinary theatre, please consider voting for them for NOW Magazine’s Audience Choice at the Dora Mavor Moore Awards. Simply visit this link and write “Impromptu Splendor” in the “Other” category and press Submit.