‘Broadway’s Next Hit Musical’ tangles tunes and improv comedy

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“Broadway’s Next Hit Musical,” a totally improvised comedy and music production, makes a stop at Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts Saturday night at 7:30. Audience suggestions will provide the song titles and ideas for the material. (Submitted photo/James Shubinski)

Don’t ask Rob Schiffmann what songs he’ll be singing Saturday night at the Schwartz Center for the Arts. He has no idea.

He won’t even have a clue when he steps on stage.

Not until he reaches into a fish bowl and pulls out a song title will the words and music start to flow.

Thus is the world of “Broadway’s Next Hit Musical,” an improvised comedy production for which Mr. Schiffmann serves as co-artistic director and performer.

Best Bets logo CLEAR copyThe show is set for 7:30 at the Dover theater.

“Broadway’s Next Hit Musical,” which has toured the country in its current incarnation since 2011 and is performed at off-Broadway’s The Triad theater during the rare times it’s not on the road, is driven largely by audience suggestions.

“The first half is set up like an awards show. There is an emcee who makes the introductions and makes some local jokes based on local information,” Mr. Schiffmann explained.

“Before the show, we ask the audience to write down made-up song titles on slips of paper. And then one by one, members of the cast come up and pull one of the song titles from a fish bowl. We give each song a back story and say what musical it’s from and how it relates to the show and then the song is sung totally on the spot.

“They then become one of four nominated songs for the Phony Award.”

The audience votes for what song should get the prize.

After intermission, the entire second act has the cast performing the made-up musical built around the winning song.

The show has four improvisers, including Mr. Schiffmann, along with the host and a musical accompanist.

“It’s a tricky show to cast. We have a wide range of abilities. A lot of folks who study improv aren’t necessarily performers. They don’t have performing experience or just do it as a hobby,” he said.

“We’re looking for people who are truly performers. These are people who are actors as well as musicians and have a good understanding of musicality. The goal is to make songs sound like songs and to fit them into the musical format.”

Mr. Schiffmann said most of the cast members have been together for the past few years.

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Rob Schiffmann

“When working with a group of actors, it’s good to have that history,” he said.

“We’re fortunate because we’re equally invested in each other’s success. And like any organization we play to each other’s sweet spots in order to make it all a well-oiled machine.

“But at the same time you never want to lose that playful quality. You look at the old ‘Carol Burnett Show’ or early episodes of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and the way they interacted with each other and how they tired to make each other laugh. I think the audience feeds off of that fun.”

With the rise of comedy theater troupes such as the Upright Citizens Brigade, Second City and The Groundlings, along with a host of podcasts and TV shows, improv has become an increasingly popular art form.

“I give UCB a lot of credit for that and also ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway,’ which has put it in the mainstream,” said Mr. Schiffmann, who has worked and toured as a professional improviser, musician and teacher since 1994.

“It’s been out there for a long time but in some ways it’s still in its adolescence. Improv can be very rebellious. You’re always told in the improv world not to try to tell a story. But with our show, our goal is to tell a cohesive, funny and engaging story along with a great musical that can move you emotionally. I think we achieve that in varying degrees each night.”

Mr. Schiffmann said that performing without the proverbial net in a show like “Broadway’s Next Hit Musical” has a certain appeal for both the audience and the performer.

“There are times when you surprise yourself with what comes out of your mouth. You think back and realize ‘Oh, that was really funny and clever,’ ” Mr. Schiffmann said.

“You don’t have much time to think about what you’re going to say. If the audience sees you up there trying to come up with lines, they will see right through you.

“People want to see you on that tightrope. And our job is to keep ourselves on the tightrope and not fall off.”

Tickets for Saturday night’s show are $24-$30 and can be purchased at www.schwartzcenter.com, by calling 674-5152 or stopping by the box office at 226 S. State St., Dover.

Funky Cats at Schwartz

Kicking off Valentine’s Day weekend at the Schwartz Center will be the sounds of bassist Elwood Bishop and The Funky Cats at 7:30 tonight.

Their style of R&B, jazz and soul creates a strong distinctive groove. Mr. Bishop brings his sound to the forefront with his bass lines that are often the centerpiece of the songs in the tradition of James Brown. There will be a special guest appearance by Dr. Rhythm on percussion.

Tickets are $19-$25 and can be purchased by visiting www.schwartzcenter.com, calling 678-5152 or stopping by the box office at 226 S. State St., Dover.

Sand Creek tonight

Also tonight, the Delaware Friends of Folk present the next in the winter concert series at the Old State House on The Green in Dover at 7:30 p.m. with local Americana band Sand Creek.

The free concert series is produced in cooperation with the First State Heritage Park and supported by a grant from the Kent County Fund for the Arts.

Sand Creek, in one form or another, has been making music since 1978. Along with Lonnie Field, songs, players, singers, songwriters, and friends have been the constants. This band, with all of its changes, has in many ways been the interpreter of Mr. Fields’ music, and as always, members drift in and out.

The current version features John Kidd on harmonica and vocals, and Bob Hamel on bass.

Sand Creek’s music is a mix of contemporary folk, blues, bluegrass, country and rock. Influences come from a broad range including Steve Goodman, John Prine, Johnny Cash, Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Townes van Zandt.

‘Share the Love’ benefit

On Valentine’s Day Sunday, Cowboy Up is staging a very special fundraiser called “Share the Love” to help Ted and Laura Welch, who lost everything in a house fire earlier this year.

The event, from 1 to 6 p.m. at the Dover nightspot on Lafferty Lane, will feature entertainment by Mike Hines, Joey Fulkerson, Mason Dixon, Robbie Boothe, Lin Doughton, Ruckus, Barrelhouse Blues and the Jonathan’s Landing Jam Ensemble.

The day will also include a Chinese Auction featuring a host of locally donated items, 50/50 and dinner specials.

Admission is $5 with those 12 and younger admitted free.

‘Bible’ extended at Biggs

Due to popular demand, the Biggs Museum of American Art announced this week it will extend “Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible” exhibition through April 24. It originally was scheduled to end on March 27.

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The exhibit “Illuminating the Word: The Saint James Bible” at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover has been extended until April 24. (Delaware State News file photo/Dave Chambers)

The Saint John’s Bible is a mixture of old-world calligraphy and contemporary art, created over 15 years by the noted craftspeople from all over the world. The exhibit of 70 original pages from the Bible, which is written on calfskin and decorated by hand, makes it the first illuminated Bible, commissioned by a Benedictine order, since the invention of the printing press.

In addition to extending the exhibition end date, the Biggs Museum will host one of the 26 artists from the project, Suzanne Moore, on TMarch 5.

“The exhibition has been a very popular one, particularly for school and other tour groups. The almost unanimous feedback we get when people visit the exhibit is that you simply must see it in person to comprehend the scope and beauty of the project,” said Biggs Museum Director Charles Guerin.

“We are pleased to be able to keep the exhibit for an additional month, giving the public an opportunity to take advantage of this rare chance to see original pages from the world renowned Saint John’s Bible in person.”

Pages from The Saint John’s Bible have never been to the region before. The 70 pages included in the exhibition span all seven volumes of The Saint John’s Bible. This is the first time pages from all volumes have been on display together. The project took an international group of artists and biblical scholars 15 years to complete and is being displayed in an exhibition before the pages of this book are bound forever.

Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota commissioned the art project of an entire hand-written and illuminated Bible: every word, every artwork, every image, from one of the best-known contemporary scribes and illuminators in the world, Donald Jackson. He is considered one of the most famous and skilled western world scribes.

The event with Ms. Moore is set for 2 p.m. and free with admission to the museum at 406 Federal St. in Dover.

Now Showing

New this weekend in theaters is the comic book movie “Deadpool,” the comedic sequel “Zoolander 2” and the romantic comedy “How to Be Single.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the Johnny Depp crime drama “Black Mass,” the biopic “Steve Jobs” and the acclaimed story of the blacklisted screenwriter “Trumbo.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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