Credit: Sydney Clinton or Anarchy Music Improv

One night, the cast of the improvised rock musical Anarchy
receives the suggestion “Applebee’s.” The ensemble members step out one by
one to sing a verse, each ending with “Can I get an appetizer?” As the
stage fills, the refrain becomes more harmonic. The appropriately named
Mike Gospel concludes by belting the phrase at a powerful volume. His
vibrato echoes through the theater, and the show kicks off on that strong,
heightened note that makes it clear: this is an improvised musical, not
musical improv that aims for cheap rhymes and cleverness.

Anarchy
runs a tight hour, trimmed by an opening act; the night I attended, the
talented comedic singer-songwriter Becca Brown performed. There is little time for needless banter,
so the cast skims over chatter to quickly arrive at the scene-closing,
show-stopping musical numbers that move the plot along. When one Applebee’s
employee tells his parents he’s leaving their small town in pursuit of a
lasting legacy, a song immediately begins. Dad wishes his son would play
center for the Indiana Pacers; Mom expresses fury that she’s being
abandoned. The underlying score, improvised by a guitarist and a pianist,
hits minor keys, casting a plaintive tone to punctuate the parents’
disappointment.

The production quality remains high, thanks to musicians and
behind-the-scenes technicians who alternately follow the lead of the
improvisers or steer the proceedings with lighting changes. The isolated
Applebee’s restaurant always appears dim, which obscures facial expressions
and contrasts with the brightness of more cathartic scenes. Anarchy also includes a painter off to the side who works on crude
portraits and landscapes throughout the show. He’s a distraction when the
ensemble musical numbers should be stealing the show.   v