Creator: Jason Kravits
A childhood dream of owning a lifeboat, a failed musical about Canada staged on a Croydon roundabout and a romantic ode to Grimsby, it can only be an improv night. From the success of Showstoppers to the annual Improvathon there is plenty of high quality, brilliantly plotted and hilarious theatre that is entirely made up on the spot. Now Matthew Discovery from Tulsa brings his brand-new show to Zedel in Central London confusingly advertised under the clearly made-up name of Jason Kravits.
Off the Top, running just under a week lets the audience make all the crucial decisions, and by filling in a slip of paper at your table asking for ‘Words to Live By’, a place, a thing, an adjective, a ‘Short Phrase’ and your latest text message, these will form the backbone of the show, effortlessly worked into new song titles, anecdotes and punchlines as Kravits weaves his increasingly outlandish but entertaining story.
The show begins as the special guest – Ruth Bratt at the press performance – chooses a name and hometown from audience suggestions before introducing the star of the show who starts to tell the audience the story of his life. It’s a safe but flexible structure allowing the tale to go almost anywhere, giving Kravits just enough momentum to orchestrate links between the various songs and jokes across this 80-minute piece.
And as a vastly experienced Broadway and cabaret performer, Kravits knows you can never upstage the audience, so as he reaches into the jar for another slip of paper – all of which are used by the end of the evening – the random, charming, quirky, filthy and dark minds of the viewer will be the star. The added joy of course is watching the delirious co-narrative unfold while waiting to see just who or what will flummox the charismatic star.
Seeing someone make up entire songs and scenes on the spot never gets any less impressive and as the Sinatra influenced ‘Health, Beauty, Love’ opens the show as chosen from one unknown audience member’s ‘Words to Live By’, Kravits and his mini band (John Thorn on piano, Johnny Gormley on bass and Sophie Alloway on drums) take us through as many musical styles as they can. Whether it’s the finger-snap 50s deep jazz of Matthew’s decision to go with the flow entitled ‘Oh F**k it’ or a brilliant Sondheim pastiche about never being able to fail, not to mention the delightfully speedy Russian encore duet that recites all the remaining audience suggestions. By the end of Off the Top a bizarre little world will have come to life.
The Guest Stars may have to work a little harder to muscle their way in however with Bratt appearing in only a small section about a faux Gershwin musical the performances once appeared in together resulting in a swing duet about a female bigamist and her many lovers, plus the encore. With Joe Stilgoe, Sarah-Louise Young, Alan Cox and Stephen Frost, and Rachel Tucker and Le Gateau Chocolat appearing later in the week anything can happen.
Yet, Kravits is a great compere, host and actor, the speed and quality of his comic creations are truly impressive and Off the Top is a great showcase for a talented performer on a rare visit to the UK. Purposefully choosing the coldest and most disrupted time of year for his show and pleased to be in a small cramped venue, Matthew Discovery loved sharing his Tulsa-born love of socks, cats and commodes with a whole new audience. But just who will Kravits be tomorrow?
Runs Until: 19 January 2020