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It's Your Show

U.S. improvisers Boom Chicago make Amsterdam a second home by playing to their crowds.

Pictured: Boom Chicago's Leidseplein Theater in Amsterdam.

Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but improv and sketch comedy shows, especially in New York, can get overly taken with their own cleverness at times -- no matter how justified the performers may be in doing so, based on their abilities.

Maybe one doesn’t have to go overseas, but in any market where gaining acceptance for improv means making more effort to cater to an audience, one is bound to find shows that will be more accessible to general audiences.

Boom Chicago, a group of American expatriates performing in Amsterdam, presents just such a show, that’s not all about them as much as it is all about you -- all about their audience.

The cast of one of their current shows, “Me, MySpace and iPod,” seen there December 15, applies their improvisational skills to connecting with audiences, particularly in segments where they draw on interviewing audience members then putting what they’ve learned, as well as the personalities of the interviewees, to good use in their comedy.

Troupe member Jen Burton proved most masterful at this, recreating a dead-on impression of one audience member who had been interviewed just beforehand, live in the theater, by colleague Brendan Hunt. Burton, performing from backstage through a feed to a video screen, drew on the woman’s self-description as being pregnant and living in sin with her boyfriend, who was by her side as well. Cast member Michael Orton-Toliver added some mockery of the couple’s remark that they were “building a baby” by hammering at a baby doll.

Another masterful piece also drew from the audience, using an interview (again conducted live in the theater) with an audience member about his MySpace page to build a whole sketch that effectively showcased the whole cast as various friends that the audience member had portrayed on his page. The prominent video screen on stage seamlessly integrated the additional online material into the performance.

Boom Chicago’s show had a few other highlights as well, not wholly dependent on participation or video although the group has gotten very good at using those aspects. Andel Sudik appeared in a parody of old web sensation LonelyGirl15, only as Anne Frank -- at first you cringe when you see the premise here, but they actually pull it off without being blasphemous.

Another highlight was a parody of “24” that used audience suggestions as goals for Hunt to guess at as Jack Bauer in pursuit of a terrorist. At times, the troupe also gets to show off some musical chops, particularly in an introductory number around the “Me, MySpace and iPod” theme, with a funny joke about online dating really meaning masturbating.

There were a couple flat spots in the show, but these were a small percentage of the more than 90 minutes they performed. An impersonation of Chuck D by longtime company member Rob Andrist Plourde singing with Bob Dylan, played by Hunt, dragged on a little too long. A gambit that had Orton-Toliver being recorded playing one side of a conversation, and then having Sudik, kept outside, react to the playback with her full other side of the conversation, seemed a little too gimmicky. This might not be so challenging for a cast that’s obviously been performing together a long time.

But these are largely quibbles out of a show that largely connected with the audience and had it eating out of the troupe’s hands. And with the New York improv scene now so competitive, a show could really distinguish itself here with a few pages out of Boom Chicago’s playbook.




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