Five Conceptual Mistakes

Oops! Road Sign

When Michael Pollock asked me to tackle the subject of common mistakes to avoid in musical improv, hundreds popped up, so I waited four months or so. Once I’d paid off my Christmas mistakes and had gotten used to the world’s cutest puppy, I finally had some time to just sit with the laptop. So I posted a bunch of high school pictures on Facebook. After that, I dawdled, did some shows and ate a pizza. Finally, I got off my ass and focused on good sir Michael’s request and came up with this:

Around the city of Los

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Defeating a Big Bad Problem with Improvised Musicals


Many long-form musicals suffer from a common illness – they get off to a great start, and then lose their way. The audience may still be entertained if the actors maintain wit and good cheer throughout, but no spectator will have that reaction we yearn for – the delighted, giddy sense of having seen a MIRACLE. It’s a tall order, I know. Poor me, I always feel regretful about a performance that doesn’t really “win the game.” Winning means creating a musical that holds together like the real thing, top to bottom. The most expert improvisation of solos, duets,

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An Impromptones Horror Story at Sea


Whether it’s an improvised song, a show comprised of songs (a revue) or a long-form musical – make it a priority to learn how much is enough, because too much can be deathly. As my composition and arranging teacher, Dick Grove, once said of songwriting, “The longer your song, the greater will be its tendency to suck.” The same is true of any form of entertainment – to report that a movie was “long” is almost as bad as saying that it was just horrible.

Well, there we were in the Mediterranean Sea – the Impromptones on Crystal Cruises.

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Improv Musicals: Interesting and Cohesive Accompaniment

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Plenty of musical variety is easily built in when you accompany a group that enjoys the “potpourri” approach, a la Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This is a wonderful opportunity to be thematic, and cleverly introduce stability to the crazy array of styles.

In Musical Improv Comedy I once wrote:

“Theme, Thematic, Thematicism. These terms refer to anything that becomes memorable as a result of repetition. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, it just has to happen more than once. Or even more effectively: again and again and again and again.”

That’s it.  My thematic strategy consists of playing several, simple musical ideas a bunch of times throughout a

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Tips for Accompanists: “Cueing a Song” in a Long-Form Musical

Sami Klein, Shulie Cowen, Hillary Rowe in "Opening Night: The Improvised Musical"

When do you “cue a song?” Well, anytime a character experiences a moment of is a good time for them to sing. Also, listen for emphatic statements that can be expanded upon in song, for example, “You and me are the sleaziest cops in town,” or “There’s a lotta ways to make money in New York, my friend!” And here’s one more: “Come on everybody, we’re gonna throw the best barbecue ever!” You’re looking for bold proclamations of feelings and points of view – perfect moments for actors to exploit by singing.

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