Earlier this month, Off the Wall Comedy Improv performed its musical parody Lyin’ King, which is the fourth show in its series of improvisational musicals called Fraudway.
Lyin’ King follows the classic Disney story of Simba the lion on his journey to become king as he takes his father’s place over the African plains and saves his pride from the clutches of his evil uncle Scar.
The not-so-classic twists in the storyline turn out to be that Simba’s father, Mufasa, is no longer king of the lions, but king of the nurses. Scar is now an evil doctor who is trying to develop a deadly common cold virus that will turn everyone into Paris Hilton, destroying them all.
Simba accidentally kills his father after giving him a deadly vaccine. After escaping a posse of gangster hyenas, running away from home and being raised by a pig and a meerkat who teach him the meaning of their motto “Banana-Ramma-Lama-Ding-Dong,” Simba returns to the Pride Lands to defeat his uncle and find his own place in “The Circle of Shots.”
The warped plot content was a result of audience suggestions and scenes that were made up on the spot by the cast. Off the Wall, owned and originated by cast member Caleb Parry, is a weekly improv show done at the Terrace Plaza Playhouse at 10:30 on Saturday nights. They perform in an improvisation style known as “short-form competitive,” which involves a series of comedy games that rely on audience participation and random suggestion.
Parry stated that Off the Wall decided to try and take a different approach, since the short-form style was typical for most improv troupes. After a creative transition, the group decided to start doing a Chicago improv style called “free-form organic,” in which the games are stripped and the troupe does nothing but scene work based on audience suggestion.
Parry then collaborated with Rick Rea, a fellow musical theater major at Weber State University and improv performer, to create Fraudway. Each show involved is performed with a simple story format similar to the original, with all the detailed and musical content (provided by Rea, who can play piano by ear) completely improvised.
“We’ve been accused of scripting, which in our opinion is the biggest compliment we can get. If people actually think we’re scripting, then that means we’re doing our job really well,” Parry said.
To prepare for Fraudway outside the regular shows, Parry explained that Off the Wall members are cast into certain characters in the story. Then, the week before, members go through workshops in order to solidify their takes on their characters before they are thrown into a show with no script and no rules.
Off the Wall has been advertising its Fraudway shows at WSU since its beginning production of Paroglee back in April, and since the majority of the cast members are either WSU students or alumni, they said they believe they see a lot of support from the campus community.
“We’ve seen a good support from the students at Weber State,” said Cameron Kapetanov, an Off the Wall performer who played Simba, the protagonist, in Lyin’ King and will be returning next semester to WSU. “It’s a good place for students to get their mind off of school. We’ve seen a great support here; that’s why we come here, because Weber State is so supportive of the arts and what we do.”
Parry said they have had 200 people show up to each Fraudway production so far, with the lobby of the Terrace Plaza Playhouse packed with students and couples before the doors were even open at 10:15.
“The community in general has been very responsive to what we do,” Kapetanov said. “Just random people hear about it somehow, and it’s really interesting to see Utah take great care for this format of improv.”
Besides finding a market in the community, Off the Wall also invites the community to be a part of the improvisational art form by holding free workshops every Friday night from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Fraudway’s next production will be a parody of the musical Wicked called Wicked Funny, which is debuting sometime in October. Regular Off the Wall comedy tickets are $5 and the Fraudway shows are $7.
“Every night you come to a show and you see characters and stories that develop, a lot of fun things that happen, and at the end of the night it’s gone,” Parry said. “You have a reason to come back every week; otherwise you’ll miss something that will never happen again. That makes it really unique.”