It’s Friday, October 26, 2018, and the Broadway’s Next H!T Musical cast is just about ready to take the stage at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts, located on the campus of Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ.
The troupe — which started in New York City, but which has spent the past decade and a half traveling the country with their fully-improvised musical comedy awards show — has been lauded by The New York Times as “hilarious!” and the New York Post as “remarkable!”
As patrons mill about the Grunin Center lobby before the show, many are intrigued by a sign on a table requesting the submission of an original song title. According to the sign, several song titles will be chosen by the Broadway’s Next H!T Musical cast and used to create tonight’s spontaneous expression of music and theater.
As it turns out, however, the evening’s entertainment begins before patrons even enter the auditorium as theatergoers — including Ron and Susan from Toms River — are interviewed and filmed as if they are part of a red carpet event by Broadway’s Next H!T Musical cast member and emcee, Marc Engberg.
“He asked us silly questions,” reveals Susan, before noting, “We love theater. We love to go to New York City, but we also support local venues like the Grunin Center — it’s so close, and they get great acts.”
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Adds Ron, “We recently saw jazz drummer Tommy Igoe here — he’s one of the finest musicians in the world — and he was excellent!” before adding, “but we also support other venues in the area including The Strand Theater in Lakewood and the Count Basie in Red Bank.”
In addition to emcee Marc Engberg, Broadway’s Next H!T Musical stars actors Deb Rabbai, Robert Z. Grant, Matt Giroveanu, and Rob Schiffmann, in addition to pianist Adrien Pellerin.
During Act I of tonight’s show, the cast takes the stage to satirize Broadway’s Tony Awards with their own fictitious awards show — The Phony Awards — where they feature four original songs based on four selected song title suggestions provided by the audience.
Each nominated song is not only spontaneously created, but is also featured in a short scene.
The first audience-supplied nominee is called “Kettlebell Swing.”
Another is “I Am a Baby Ambulance.”
A third nominated song title is “My Daughter’s a Brain Surgeon and My Wife is a Nutcase.”
A final nominee is entitled “Walk Like a Penguin.”
After experiencing all four songs spontaneously brought to life, the audience is asked to select one as the winner, and they choose “Walk Like a Penguin.”
At this point, the audience is informed that, following a short break, the number will be featured in an improvised Broadway musical complete with a unique cast of characters, spontaneous vocal harmonies, and period costumes.
During Act II, Broadway’s Next H!T Musical presents a fully realized musical, Tuxedo Park, which is set in the late 1800s in New York City.
The musical centers on two quirky characters in the form of an upper crust couple.
It also spotlights two working class brothers.
The plot involves the framing and imprisoning of one of the brothers for twenty years.
The musical ends with the release of the jailed brother with his rich accuser, played by Rob Schiffmann, improvising, “The cell keys were hanging right here on this hook for the past twenty years — you could have totally gotten out at any time.”
The grand finale includes a full-cast performance of the award-winning song, “Walk Like a Penguin.”
Throughout the course of Tuxedo Park, not only does the Broadway’s Next H!T cast improvise all of the dialogue, lyrics, and musical accompaniments they perform — they even create original choreography right on the spot.
Following the performance, we take a moment to chat with Rob Schiffmann, a founding member of the Broadway’s Next H!T Musical troupe.
Touring as a professional improviser and musician for over 17 years, Rob says, “l love doing this show; it’s so much fun! With the audience suggestions, no two shows are ever the same — and I’ve never been stumped; no matter how unusual a suggestion may be, I know my fellow cast members will make anything I do great. After working together and listening to one another for so long, we get to the point where we know how to read each other as improvisational actors.”
Fellow cast member Matt Giroveanu agrees adding, “It’s always fun, and you never know what’s going to happen,” before warning, “There is a little bit of pressure, however, because once you say anything on stage, it becomes the ‘truth’ of your improvisational ‘reality.’”
Concluding by acknowledging, “I was really happy with tonight’s ‘Walk Like a Penguin’ song, Giroveanu — a Seton Hall alumnus — exclaims, “And I love being back performing here in New Jersey — it’s like a homecoming for me!”
And as for the theatergoers in attendance at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center tonight? They all had a chance to witness the spontaneity of the performers and their “all-for-one-and-one-for-all” attitude, leaving audiences to wonder just what will be Broadway’s NEXT H!T Musical!
For more information on Broadway’s Next H!T Musical, please check out broadwaysnexthitmusical.com. For future events at Toms River’s Grunin Center — including Max Weinberg’s Jukebox on November 19, Rockapella on December 13, and Ana Gasteyer on December 15 — please go to grunincenter.org.Photos by Love Imagery
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