‘Broadway’s Next Hit Musical’ improv show presents Phony Awards at AMP

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Broadway's Next Hit Musical' at AMP (Part 1)

Do you sing along to the Tony Awards and laugh watching “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

“Broadway’s Next Hit Musical” combines both at AMP at Pike & Rose on Saturday.

“If you’ve ever heard of the Tony Awards, we think of ourselves as the Phony Awards,” Co-Artistic Director Deb Rabbai told WTOP. “The audience comes in, writes down a made-up song title on a slip of paper and puts it in a fish bowl. We have a host come out like a Neil Patrick Harris type … then we have four performers present their ‘nominated song.'”

The audience song suggestions range from funny phrases to current events.

“One song title [was] “Brian, I Love You’ or something, but it ended up being where I was a princess and my young love was coming to my boudoir and in order to hide him from my father, I hid him behind my dress,” Rabbai said. “The person who played my husband ended up picking me up on his shoulders, so I ended up singing on his shoulders!”

After four improvised performances, the audience votes on who wins the Phony Award.

“The second half of the show, we improvise an entire musical comedy, including the [winning] song,” Rabbai said.  “We make up all of the lyrics, all of the dialogue, all of the choreography. We have our musical director on the piano making up every single note … then we have our host and our stage manager, who does the lights and sound.”

Rabbai created the show a decade ago with Co-Artistic Director Rob Schiffmann.

“My co-artistic director, he’s hilarious in the same way I’m hilarious,” Rabbai said. “We’ve been improvising for an extremely long time, so we are very well-crafted at what we do. We make it look easy, but it’s really skill up there that you’re seeing when you see people being funny off the cuff. We’ve been improvising together almost 20 years.”

Joining them on stage are fellow improvisers Ralph Buckley and Greg Triggs.

“In New York City, there’s a tourist attraction called The Ride, a bus that goes around the city, and one of our actors is a host on that,” Rabbai said. “We have people who have directed Super Bowl halftime shows, standup comedians who have done standup across the country, our music directors have written musicals [like] ‘Avenue Q’ on Broadway.”

Together, they’ve brought their Phony Awards across America and beyond.

“We’ve done almost every single state in the United States,” Rabbai said. “We’ve been to Hawaii, Alaska, Virginia, Michigan, Texas, California, Colorado. … Then we were lucky enough before the pandemic to do our first international performance in Bermuda. … We were also lucky enough to perform in an improvisation festival in Portugal.”

The end result is good, clean fun for audiences of all ages.

“It’s really for everybody,” Rabbai said. “You can feel comfortable bringing your 10-year-old child or your grandmother. … I think sometimes with improvisation, people get worried that they’re going to get picked on if they sit in the front row … but that’s not our ethic. We really like to be inclusive of people and bring them along with us to have a good time.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Broadway's Next Hit Musical' at AMP (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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