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Saturday at Stageworks: Musical improv comedy

Bill DeYoung



Pictured: Members of the rotating cast of the Definitely Not Murderers musical improv troupe. Photo provided.

They’re definitely not planners.

In an improv comedy program, nobody – not even the performers onstage – knows what’s going to happen. And then, to borrow from Johnny Carson, hilarity ensues.

Well, that’s the general idea. And as America has seen in the popular TV series Whose Line is it Anyway?, improv in the hands of skilled practitioners can be wildly funny.

Drawing from both sides of the bay, the improv troupe called Definitely Not Murderers specializes in musical improv, which requires a particularly stylized talent.

As for that curious moniker, the group’s tagline “You can’t spell manslaughter without laughter!” is all the explanation anybody needs.

The line is attributed to musical director Jeremy Douglass, one of the group’s core members. Although the lineup is fluid – they perform with whoever’s available at the time – Douglass will be on board and behind the keyboard when Definitely Not Murderers goes line-for-line against the Tampa Bay Improv All-Stars Saturday at Stageworks Theatre in Tampa.

They’re calling it Best Show Ever.

Improv – or “making something out of nothing,” in the words of group co-founder Tiffany Ford – can take numerous forms.

And “there’s all different kinds of musical improv,” she explains. “In Definitely Not Murderers, we say we’re honoring musical theater – but really, we’re just making fun of it. It’s really kind of a delightful, joyous experience for people who know musicals and people who don’t.

“It’s also a really fun and cathartic experience for an audience, but also for performers, and for students of the art form, too. We get a lot of requests for musical improv classes and workshops. And you don’t have to be good at singing to do it.”

Luckily for the audience, every member of the troupe is an accomplished singer. Several are longtime fixtures on the bay area musical theater scene.

Along with Douglass, who writes and performs music for Jobsite Theater and serves as the mad maestro of the Florida Bjorkestra, Saturday’s configuration of Definitely Not Murderers will feature Colleen Cherry, Kasondra Rose, Marissa Koch, Regan McLellan and Ford herself.

“There’s a lot of really talented improvisors in this area,” says Ford, the Director of Community Advancement at the St Petersburg Arts Alliance. “This (Best Show Ever) is a gathering of expert improvisors, if you can call it that. There’s really no perfection in improv.”

The former Director of Education and Outreach at American Stage, Ford was a major component of that organization’s not-insignificant improv offshoot. Her resume also includes lengthy stints with Asolo Rep (Sarasota) and Washington (D.C.) Improv Theatre.

While the Tampa Bay Improv All-Stars will do traditional longform, sketch-like improv, Murderers’ row will turn in a decidedly tuneful performance.

Either that’s improvising a full musical … it’s storytelling based on a prompt from the audience,” Ford explains. “We just heighten and explore and expand on that. It’s not always linear storytelling.”

Nevertheless, the thread’s always there.

“Jeremy’s making up the music, also inspired by the prompt. Sometimes we joke, at the beginning of the set, that he’s never played piano before. Which we know isn’t true. But he doesn’t know what’s going to come out and neither do we, so that’s part of the fun.”

Find tickets for Saturday’s show here.
















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