Back when I was in high school, my cousin and I made up an impromptu jazz-age musical called Loser: The Musical, wherein a lowly, poor broom boy (based on a broom boy at the local Dunkin' Donuts whom my cousin and her sister insisted I had a crush on — don't ask) falls in love with a rich girl he stumbles upon one day. As one could expect, there were cheesy numbers galore, with inclusion — of course — of the musical's title theme, "Loser," which our hero would sing forlornly as the rich girl drove away with her Also-Rich-But-Also-A-Jerk fiance. Needless to say, Loser never got past my living room couch in Queens (thank God), though I do regret we never recorded any of the hilarious tunes my cousin made up off the top of her head. Such is life, as the poets say — and apparently, such is theater.
It is practically biblical testament that in theater, not one performance is ever the same night after night. Theater is ephemeral. A new show currently playing at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street) called Blank! The Musical is taking this idea to a whole new level, with the clever inclusion of an iPhone application. Yes, you read that right. In an age where everyone can personalize everything from music playlists to their social network profile pages (all hail the invention of cover photos), an app with which a different audience night after night can create their own personalized musical seems long overdue.
Created and produced by Second City and ImprovBoston alums Michael Girts, T.J. Shanoff and Mike Descoteaux (who here also serves as the show's music director and deserves a kudos-filled shout-out; you'll find out the reason why in a minute) in conjunction with Upright Citizens Brigade, Blank's conceit is simple enough: come to the show fully equipped with an iPhone and, when prompted, log onto the show's wi-fi connection with the password provided and visit the Blank! App. As the show's emcee T.J. Mannix greets you onstage (all the while charming the pants off you), you are told to follow his instructions carefully and get ready to create your own musical! With the show's spiffy app — designed by LiveCube — audience members get to choose the musical's title, its signature songs, the score's signature theme and even a dramatic piece of dialogue (this night's choice line, taken from a brave dude who shouts it out hilariously from the back of the theater: "There's nothing left for us here in this storage locker"). As a result, we are left with Is This Supposed to Smell? The Musical, about the life and times of the good people (and whales) who frequent a local car depot in Portland, Maine. By the time the actors come out and the show finally gets going ("Maine is (The Maine Thing)"), all you need do is sit back and watch your weird but wonderful creation come to life.
Here, the cast of characters of Is This Supposed to Smell? range from a couple of cabbies (Douglas Widick and Andrew Knox), who fall in love with two best girlfriends who wish to go out on the road and change their life ("Think Bigger"), to a rich May-December couple who take on the decision of having a child, only to have it backfire in ways they could never imagine ("We Were Way Off"), to the endangered whales of the Pacific Northwest whose only problem seem to be some literally stinky and painful dental work ("Ouch! My Baileen"). Tackling material that was never-before-rehearsed until this night is no doubt a difficult task, and the actors pull it off effortlessly, if by breaking out of character every once in a while to let out a chuckle or two themselves. It's perfectly ridiculous fun watching them come up with the stuff they do; Dufresne and Van Colton, in particular, are hilarious as the elder(ly?) wife recently deceased from failure to carry a child — which should be heartbreaking, if not for Van Colton's turn as the husband who somehow manages to carry a child himself (the child ends up being a weird whale-human half-breed).
Yep, it's that kind of show.
Just as with the book and lyrics, none of the music has been rehearsed, either. Descoteaux and his band (which also consists of Daniel Bennett on reeds and Al Vetere on drums, with Descoteaux himself on piano) do a fantastic job not only in keeping with the night's chosen chord structure (D/E/F/G) thematically throughout, but also in following along the each of the actors' whims, especially when Hastings goes on one of her signature let's-jam-some-extra-syllables-into-the-lyrics-because-this-is-all-totally-made-up-so-why-not riffs, garnering some extra giggles from the crowd.
For the irregular theater-goer looking for an unconventional musical to check out, Blank! The Musical is the show to see. To put it in tech-speak: it'll not only make you "LOL," but also "ROTFLYAO.".. and then some!
Blank! The Musical is running in a special limited engagement at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street) through Dec. 14. Performances are Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m; and Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $29-$69 and can be purchased at Telecharge at 212-239-6200 or at www.telecharge.com. For more information, visit www.blankthemusical.com.