Every year many of the top Musical Comedy acts on the UK open mic circuit compete over a few rounds to be crowned Musical Comedy Awards Champion and become hailed in blog reviews the internet over. So here’s one.
I was very fortunate to have caught the MCA Final last night, after having an unwanted job cancelled at short notice so I could attend – I had already seen 2 of the 10 finalists and booked a further 3 to perform at my own cabaret show the Not So Secret Society London without having caught their acts. The other 5 were unknown so my mission for going was a combination of support, scouting and enjoyment of Musical Comedy.
The first act of the night was Two Plus Ones. These boys were talented and intriguing but from our cheap seats way back in the Grand Circle (front row though!) a lot of the material was insufficiently audible. In fact, it was hard to tell if they even had microphones. Their material was mostly centered around their transition into adulthood and the troubles that face us in adjusting to post-university life of the modern era – a subject that most of us can relate to and they clearly won over the majority of the crowd who could follow every word. Some nice rap interludes and good chemistry across the team.
Next up was the eventual third-placer Will Hutson, who performed songs about an ex-girlfriend with expertly delivered shift in persona from pretty, conversational verses to a hatred-fueled booming chorus with an hilarious shock twist climax. The lighting during his set was magnificent and he knows his craft perfectly, although the content was less ‘original’ than most the other performers.
The third performer was the act I was most looking forward to, Friz Frizzle, and he didn’t disappoint. It’s a shame that each act only had 8 minutes because it’s difficult to sell yourself the best you can in a slot shorter than you’d get mid-billing an average stand-up night. But Friz managed to cram in a huge number of snippets of comedy songs – rewriting classic hits of all generations and genres. The material was mostly strong, and for myself as an avid quiz fan it’s also a delight to try and work out what song he’s playing while still focusing on the material. Friz would have finished in my Top 3.
After Friz came the act I know best, Hurt & Anderson having performed alongside them at numerous cabaret nights and seen their huge developments over the past few months. They blew me away at the Sketch Off Final last month, but while their performance was very good here they didn’t pick their best material – opening with one of their classic songs, a sexualised political piece with some wonderful gags. It works perfectly in an intimate club but a heavily leftwing opening felt a little uneasy with an audience of 700+. There was a funny non-musical interlude demonstrating Georgia and Laura’s beautiful comic relationship leading into their second classic hit about Tinder. It was a shame that they excluded a more upbeat hit with London Underground puns that would have showcased their more energetic side in favour of the sensual mellow satire.
The girls were followed by Will Hislop whose sketch group Giants were runners-up in Sketch Off last month. He was vying for his first victory here – a fact he was open about in an opening statement about twice being a bridesmaid. He started off on poor footing, seeming like he was after sympathy but he must have done something right as he was proclaimed champion at the end of the night. Will’s centerpiece is a Norweigan Eurovision parody with some hilarious highlights, made even more dramatic with the professional lighting of the Lyric Theatre. It was the same song he performed as part of his sketch duo last month but that couldn’t compare to the hilarious spectacle of what the audience were treated to last night. Will is definitely one to watch for the future – in fact, you can see him for free on Fri 28th April at Not So Secret Society London in Elephant & Castle: https://www.facebook.com/events/460160031001908/
The first half of the show was polished off by one-man band Rasputin’s Lunchbox, a quirky and energetic performer with some very odd songs. A very likeable demeanour and some nice sight gags helped endear him to the audience but the material he delivered on the night was perhaps a bit niche (relying on knowledge of Martin Laurence’s facial hair) and certainly wasn’t universally appealing.
After the break we kicked off with the energetic madcap stylings of Katie Pritchard. An inherently funny comic with an infectious personality who has a rare quality to win over a whole crowd in an instance by being silly yet intelligent, quirky yet oddly mainstream. Her songs were great and if you’ve ever seen an act with more lettuce-based sight gags you’ve seen more comedy than I have. It was a pity we didn’t get to hear the ukelele she brought on stage with her but it didn’t detract from the consistent quality of her writing, performance and Beyonce moves.
The highlight of the night for me was Tom Taylor – there wasn’t much in it between him and Will but Tom was clearly the audience favourite, an award he received shortly before his second-place medal. Tom was not only a Musical Comic but a Character Comic as well, crafting out some of the biggest laughs of the night while doing seemingly very little once establishing the intricate nuances of creating a bizarre personality. His strong material was overshadowed by his skill in instantly grasping the audience so that we just wanted to know what quirky oddity he’d come out with next.
The penultimate act was for my money, and it seemed most the audience, the lowlight of the performances. ShitStorm had a lot of potential – a loud, brash duo with rockstar gimmick in the form of Musical Comedy, with huge beards, a gorgeous axe guitar and coming on stage through the crowds. It was an exciting entrance but sadly where they peaked, as the next 8 minutes was basically a series of shouting deafeningly into the mic, insulting audience members without establishing the right rapport first, and basically no jokes. It was a letdown because if the writing matched the quality of the gimmick then they could have been great, especially on such a prestigious stage.
Last up was Jamie D’Souza, a cute, inventive young comic with a funky electric keyboard worn like a guitar with some nice material on Blue Peter. He’s in the early stages of his career but could go far once he’s got a few years of gigs under his belt.
A final dishonourable mention to the compere Tina Turner Tea Lady who entirely detracted from the success of the night as she failed to generate the right atmosphere to introduce the acts, with tedious repetitive droning interludes, aggravating sound effects and few attempts at jokes which were a series of poor music puns. There were occasional isolated laughs from across the auditorium but it wasn’t what the venue, lineup and mood of the night deserved.
Congratulations again to Will Hislop on his great victory – you can expect to see his name increasingly often over the next few years and hopefully some of the other acts will continue to make their mark on the industry too. Keep an eye out for some of them at Edinburgh Fringe, and performing at the free monthly cabaret show Not So Secret Society London: www.facebook.com/NSSSLondon