Left to right, Chris Gibbs, Matt Baram, Ron Pederson, and Naomi Snieckus get close for the two year anniversary show of their weekly improvised cabaret Carnegie Hall.
Improv company The National Theatre of the World celebrated their two-year anniversary of weekly shows at Bread and Circus on December 15, with a spirited Carnegie Hall Show vaudeville cabaret. What follows is as close as we could come to a blow-by-blow of the evening; many of our notes were illegible, as we were shaking with laughter.
9:10 PM: There’s a snowstorm outside, but the weather hasn’t affected turn-out; the lobby is packed. Carnegie Hall players Matt Baram, Chris Gibbs, Ron Pederson, and Naomi Snieckus, in formal attire (tuxedos for the men, a ball-gown for Snieckus), are busily mingling. Snieckus announces the house is open, and an orderly stampede surges into the theatre.
9:40 PM: The four regular cast members are still valiantly trying to squeeze as many chairs into the theatre as space (and the fire code) will allow; the black-tied men are handing chairs in a chain down one side of the room. Snieckus asks if anyone has an empty seat beside them, and finds four singles, just enough to squeeze in the die-hards who are waiting anxiously—many more hopefuls left when the show was announced as sold out at 9:30 p.m.
Musical guest Allie Hughes.
9:45 PM: A smoke machine emits a low cloud, music swells, and Snieckus takes the stage. She thanks everyone for their patience, and for making it out in such “dismal but pretty!” weather. She then introduces musical guest Allie Hughes, who enters, elegantly attired, to sing Candide‘s “Glitter and Be Gay.” Hughes, recently featured in our Southern Souls retrospective, has impressive vocal chops—she was a contestant on CBC’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?. Her bright and agile delivery of the challenging aria receives rapturous applause.
The regular cast of Carnegie Hall waves to their adoring public, including those in the (imaginary) balcony. “We never forget the little people!” exclaims Pederson.
9:53 PM: The four regular Carnegie Hall players enter to their theme. As the music dies down, Snieckus is quick to ask the crowd, “Would you like a little something extra? Well, then, please welcome… Colin Mochrie!”
9:55 PM: Baram, in their pre-set banter (which can often take up much of the set), declares that after all that delay, he can still spot one unoccupied seat in the crowd.
PEDERSON: Oh, that’s my fault; I invited Anne Bancroft. I guess she couldn’t make it…
BARAM: She’s dead.
Ron Pederson points out the one unoccupied seat in the packed house.
9:58 PM: The players ask the audience for a theme for their first half.
BARAM: Last week, we celebrated the greatest improvised scenes in history about… what was it?
GIBBS: People were Russian from all over to see it!
Baram eventually settles on the suggestion of “dysfunctional families.”
10:10 PM: Mochrie starts a new scene milking a cow. Baram asks why he’s doing so in the living room, especially when he’s been doing it for hours without results. Mochrie’s increasingly agitated character eventually snaps…the cow’s neck. The audience goes wild.
10:17 PM: Baram takes a seat across from a overly friendly Gibbs in a 1950’s diner; the two strangers have a friendly chat, until Gibbs interjects, “You’re just sitting here, thinking about when you’re going to die, aren’t you?” It turns out he’s a serial killer. Snieckus’s dour waitress pushes the scene to its hilariously grisly conclusion by walking on and stooping besides Gibbs.
SNIECKUS: Here sir, you must have dropped this knife.
GIBBS, as she walks out of the scene: Thanks!
He nonchalantly stabs a petrified Baram.
Naomi Snieckus watches as Colin Mochrie and Ron Pederson duet as twisted Broadway characters.
10:20 PM: Improvised musical number, with accompanist Waylen Miki! Pederson and Mochrie are an acid-taking Phantom and a befuddled Calico Cat (respectively) from two unnamed mega-musicals.
10:26 PM: An odd birthday celebration, in which Snieckus is given a little person on a unicycle (Pederson) as a present.
MOCHRIE: Just don’t feed him after dark.
Pederson’s little person promptly mugs a pizza delivery man, and the scene devolves into a series of role changes as many spells are “broken.” Mochrie ends the chaos with this sum-up: “And that, of course, was a scene from Gone With the Wind.”
10:30 PM: Pederson appears as Santa Claus in a scene, using Snieckus’s white feather boa as a beard.
The Carnegie Hall Dancers perform that seasonal classic: the Rockettes-style kickline.
10:35 PM: Snieckus introduces the Carnegie Hall Dancers, five lithe ladies in red tops and wispy green pants. Their slow-burn bump-and-grind moves (to a Christmas mash-up) quickly become a fly girl bust-out, until the sound system unexpectedly cuts the number short. Snieckus enters and promises more in the second half.
10:38 PM: Intermission.
11:10 PM: The Carnegie Hall Dancers open the second half, completing their number.
11:15 PM: Snieckus introduces Kirsten Harvey, who does marvelous things with two glowing hula hoops.
Kirsten Harvey, contrary to what this picture might suggest, does have two legs; her right is obscured here by an audience member’s head.
11:18 PM: The cast returns for the second half’s improvised radio play. Gibbs, as the director/narrator, gets a specific shellfish suggestion, leading to the title, “It’s a Wonderful Lobster.”
11:29 PM: Mochrie is James Gilbert, hapless lobster wrangler. Gilbert is “pimped” to do a musical coughing number by his large impoverished family. The whole cast quickly joins in for an improvised barbershop quartet of coughs.
11:34 PM: Mochrie’s Gilbert is standing on the bridge, when Pederson’s effeminate Angel intercedes.
PEDERSON: I’m going to teach you a thing or two.
MOCHRIE: Um.. I’m married.
PEDERSON: Don’t make assumptions!
BARAM, as God, to Angel: Don’t give that man a blowjob!
11:42 PM: Pederson “pimps” Snieckus to sing a song as Glibert’s unborn daughter, leading Mochrie to declare, “the sight of a fetus singing has moved me!”
11:51 PM: Pederson’s Angel gets an old timey “a-WOO-gah!” horn as his sound effect.
MIDNIGHT: After many thanks and farewells, the cast and their guests join in the traditional closing sing-along of “What a Wonderful World.” As they exit the stage, Gibbs, who’s straining his waistcoat a bit these days, executes a perfect one-handed round-off.
Carnegie Hall‘s weekly Wednesday night show returns to Bread and Circus on January 5, 2011.
Photos by Lodoe-Laura Haines-Wangda/Torontoist.