Melbourne Fringe: Impromptunes Puppets! – The Musical

Impromptunes Puppets! - The MusicalMaybe you’ve heard of Impromptunes, one of those shows in which a comedic musical is improvised from audience suggestions. The team behind it are from WAAPA, Ballarat Arts Academy, or VCA, or part of local troupes such as Impro Melbourne and The Big Hoo-Haa!, and have a few seasons of touring under their belt.

Selling-out past Melbourne Fringe seasons, they return for the 2015 edition with a run at The Butterfly Club. This time around, the company has teamed with The Puppet Box to present Puppets! – The Musical. As company director Emmet Nichols said before this first preview of the season “If comedy, improv and music wasn’t enough for you, now there’s puppets.”

Much like a puppet monster, improv is a tricky creature. Talented performers make it funny with deceptive ease, yet in the hands of lesser talents it can be repetitive, even painful. A few such experiences have led me to mostly avoid the form. Happily, the improvised scenes and music of Puppets! The Musical show us that this group knows how to steer the beast towards an entertaining evening.

The audience provide input early by calling out potential titles. The person who contributes the accepted title is given a musical triangle that they can play once to change the course of the show. After that setup, it’s all up to the skill of the performers. On the review night we were presented with STAKE – the musical, a story of a young brown monster scared of living in the woods, set against a tale of revenge.

Aside from animating the puppets, the performers played birds and trees as the piece required. It was fun to see the cogs whirring as the players puzzled their way through the developments of scenes. Choices made by the performers in how to react to adversity not only amused each other, they often amused us too.

The songs were consistently performed well to inspired musical choices, and they succeeded in advancing the story. The performers didn’t wear microphones, so in upcoming performances I hope that some will pay more attention to projecting their voice for the sake of those at the rear of the room.

This 7.00pm show has an M rating, but despite this there was only a little cartoon-style violence, so it’s unlikely to offend an experienced Fringe audience. If anything, it might have benefitted from being a little darker for some extra shock value.

Whilst the constraints of the form make it difficult for improv to be hilarious, Puppets! The Musical was undemanding fun performed at a standard well above much of the competition. It’s worth a go in any balanced Fringe banquet.

Impromptunes Puppets! – The Musical
The Butterfly Club (downstairs), 5 Carson Place, Melbourne
Performance: Wednesday 16 September 2015 (preview)
Season continues to 4 October 2015

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Image: Puppets! – The Musical by the Impromptunes

Review: Jason Whyte