One Night Only: The Greatest Musical Never Written - Theatre Review

By: Saema Nasir

Improvised musical: two words that, when put together, can lead to disaster one would imagine. Or at least one very uncomfortable evening at the theatre.

Not so in the case of One Night Only: The Greatest Musical Never Written. The concept behind this production is fresh and the talent exceptional. The audience drives the musical, as the actors get their cues from them and make up the storyline and songs throughout the duration of the show.

Random audience members are asked three questions that will be the basis for the custom-designed musical. Three simple questions and the cast of impressive actors, comedians and singers (triple threats – watch out J-Lo!) spin and weave a storyline that makes sense and works well as a musical. Even song lyrics and music coming from a live five-piece band are all spontaneously created. The band’s amazing musical talent at times guides the song-and-dance numbers and at other times, the cast’s quick-witted dialogue influences how the music is shaped. In short, the actors and band were in-sync, perfectly working together to create a top quality musical. 

On the night I attended, audience members suggested ‘Calgary’, ‘infidelity’, and ‘the deep blue sea’ as ideas for the cast to play with. The resulting musical took place in the oil sands of Alberta and at the Calgary stampede with various characters scheming while shimmying to escape marriage, find love and even sell some pork rinds. I took a moment to observe the audience and judging by the hoots, hollers, guffaws and generous applause, they agreed with me; this show is rip-roaring fun!

It’s also a show that relies heavily on the talent of its cast – no elaborate set or well-crafted script to rely on, but it works. Free from the constraints of a predetermined plot, the cast shines; adeptly dancing, swerving, gyrating and singing into the audiences’ hearts. Ashley Botting stands out as the wronged, pork rind-selling wife of a mime. Her singing voice and dancing are superb, only to be beaten by the razing one-liners she spews out on the spot. Jan Caruana's ability to improvise is quite impressive. As a Calgary stampede organizer, she made the simple act of smoking ham hilarious and breathed life into the droll and cynical characters she created in each scene. 

Leaving out the cheesy jokes and avoiding boring archetypal characters, the actors keep it fresh with risqué jokes and edgy song lyrics. It's a mystery as to what your night at this musical comedy will entail and that's the point. In an era when even supposed reality shows are scripted and politicians deliver rote speeches, it is invigorating to witness live theatre that is neither pre-planned nor predictable. 

One Night Only: The Greatest Musical Never Written can best be summed up with the following three words: entertaining, vibrant, hilarious. Another three words? A must-see!

One Night Only: The Greatest Musical Never Written plays at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street) until February 14, 2016. 
Ticket prices range from $45-$55 + HST|students and seniors $30 + HST|Tickets can be purchased online:

Photography: Robyn Bacon