By Graeme Wiggins
VANCOUVER – For nearly 40 years the Vancouver Theatre Sports League has entertained comedy fans (nearly 60,000/year) but now they’re ready to deliver some killer laughs… literally. Their new show, Murder on the Improv Express – A Killer Comedy, is a comedic improv take on an Agatha Christie styled murder mystery. It features all of the necessary tropes of a good whodunit — a prominent socialite, a retired military officer, a famous detective and, oh yes, there’s a corpse!
With a remake of the classic board-game-turned-movie Clue on the horizon and the murder mystery back in the pop culture zeitgeist again it seems like murder is in the air. As Jay Ono, executive director of VTSL explains, it came about fairly organically. “They get pitched. Usually what happens is a cast member, or in this case one of our alumni Diane Francis pitched the idea and we’d been thinking of doing a period drama show or murder mystery show for a while. It was the right fit. They had just done a remake of Murder On The Orient Express recently so it was in the public mind.”
VTSL is not new to genre shows, but one could imagine pulling off an improvised murder mystery might seem more challenging. Ono doesn’t think so. It seems to him to work pretty much the same way other genres do. “There are definitely Agatha Christie elements we’re trying to work into the show. Things aren’t what we thought they were, etc. But we’re having a lot of fun with it. The characters in those worlds are so much fun to play. I haven’t found it more challenging than the other genres we’ve done.”
In theatre, one can rehearse from the script to make sure everything goes perfectly. In standup comedy one can try out new material on smaller audiences to test it out. VTSL doesn’t have that luxury. They don’t even use test audiences. As Ono describes, “We rehearse it with the ensemble. And they do such a good job bringing it life, not only what we’re looking for but adding suggestions. We see things in rehearsal that maybe aren’t working, or maybe need adding. We don’t have test audiences but we do have preview shows. At this stage we’ve got it down to where it’s ready for a paying audience, but in that process we might see if something isn’t flying with the audience.”
Another fun aspect of the show are the themed cocktails, created by Paul Belsito, VTSL’s bar and lounge manager, as an homage to the great cocktails of that era: Corpse Reviver and the Prohibition Pleaser. Given you can drink them in the theatre while watching the show, you’ve got the makings of a fun night out. It’s elementary…
Murder on the Improv Express – A Killer Comedy runs until May 26 at the Vancouver TheatreSports (1502 Duranleau Street, Granville Island)