Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Something's Gonna Change/Extraordinary Day

Lovers' duets can form some of the most memorable parts of an improvised musical. We've discussed them before, in a great series by Luke Rimmelzwaan, featuring New Lovers, Separated Lovers, and Bringing It All Together. All of those entries featured examples from One Bride for Seven Brothers, Impro Mafia's first themed fully-improvised musical.

Worst Side Story revolved around another couple. Luke Allan and Kiesten McCauley played those lead roles expertly, and of course they collaborated on several improvised lovers' duets. I've got two of them for you.

These two songs demonstrate some nice concepts, but they're more than just a few ideas and techniques strung together; as improvised songs, they were incredibly well executed.

They're probably some of the best examples of improvised lovers' duets that I've ever heard, and I'm so pleased I could play a part in them.

Something's Gonna Change

The story

Our story so far... Luke's character Napkin Ring has been established as the young enthusiastic pup of the Hoity Toitys. Kiesten's character Messy is the new recruit in Fingers' gang. They know each other by reputation, but have never met. The scene started with Messy joining up at Papa Chocolate's roller derby rink ("chocolate" and "roller derby" being two of the audience offers for the show). After a few minutes talking to Papa Chocolate, Napkin Ring arrives at the rink. Have a listen to the scene featuring Something's Gonna Change, and then we'll discuss it.

The scene

Rather than give you just the song, you can hear the scene preceding the song where Napkin Ring (who introduces himself as "Nappy") and Messy (calling herself "Melissa") meet each other. We really tried to take inspiration from West Side Story; when the couple met and instantly changed, irrevocably falling in love at first sight. Nappy and Messy experience much the same thing.

It wasn't hard to pick the point to start vamping in to a song. Once Kiesten's character said "I don't feel like I'm ever going to be the same again - from this day on", a song was inevitable :)

The song

Kiesten starts the vocal, following the very simple piano line. For the first verse, you can hear her very specifically lagging the bar to hear where the music is going to go, so she can follow along with the melody line. Once the form was established, she took over and started leading the bar. The biggest gamble was going for "In a way", hitting that note strongly and hoping the music would meet her there.

The chorus was really simple again. Just a single simple phrase, which Kiesten took from Luke's earlier song:
I know today
Something's gonna change
In the most extraordinary way.
Sounds a little awkward if you just say it; Kiesten set it really nicely in to that chorus.

Luke's reply verse didn't exactly match the form of the first verse, which is just fine in my book. What is important is the recall of the chorus, once it came around again.

Musically, everything was pretty simple, other than a few embellishments in the vocal gaps. I think the crux for me was that first chord in the chorus, a B on Eb. That first-inversion on B sort of gave a sense of building momentum, promise and potential - a good match for the theme of the song.

I recall freaking out at the beginning of Luke's verse. Right around 2:20, I realised I was about to rip off Bryan Adams' Everything I Do. Best not to go there.

I can also remember being really keen for the last strike of the song to feel a bit unfinished, I guess again reflecting that this was just the start of something big. The closure on the music did come eventually, as the scene played itself out.

Extraordinary Day

The story

A lot happens between that first song, and today's second song Extraordinary Day.

After Messy and Nappy meet, they have their first date at the roller derby rink, where Messy is pitted against Nappy's older sister Salad Fork, who also happens to be the reigning roller derby champion. When the gangs hear Nappy cheering Messy on and realise they are together, a rumble ensues, resulting in the accidental death of Papa Chocolate - apparently at Nappy's hands. Upset, Messy quits her gang; Nappy's gang kick him out for being disloyal.

Later, a mournful Messy is kneeling by Papa Chocolate's grave. The clip starts as Nappy arrives.

Now that you're all caught up, time to listen to Extraordinary Day.

The scene

I love this scene, and the way the dynamic between the characters changes. You'll forgive me for including such a long bit of non-music before the song; I think the journey the characters take, from cold anger through forgiveness to hope and optimism, is wonderful. The song seems to naturally cap off that transition; they couldn't get any more hopeful and optimistic using spoken words alone, but a song bursts through to a whole new level.

There's a mark of a successful poignant scene in here. There are moments where the 80-strong audience is deathly silent, and nothing is rushing to fill the awkward gaps in the dialogue or relieve that tension. Sometimes a quiet audience is a disengaged audience, but not this time - the audience is genuinely happy when Messy decides to trust Nappy, and they go absolutely crazy when she kisses him. If you recall back to the opening song, the audience was anything but warm at the start of the show, so to get them this warm is a great hint that the actors were nailing it.

The song

The song took me by surprise a little bit; in contrast with the very obvious signs in the earlier song, this one just sort of started. You can hear me fumble around a little bit as I figure out where I want to go. Eventually I remember that first-inversion structure from the old song - along with Kiesten and Luke's clever reuse of those 'Something's Gonna Change' and 'Extraordinary Day' phrases, we're reprising both lyrical and musical elements.

One of my favourite bits is the running joke about Nappy wanting a big family; his lyric in the song to keep the joke running was just excellent.

I really liked how Kiesten and Luke traded lines as the song progressed; Kiesten would set up a rhyme, and Luke would finish it (much like he did in Best Friend/First Mate).

I specifically recall as the song went on that I kept misjudging the end. There were a few times when I set up chord progressions that would naturally lead in to an ending, but as the next line developed it obviously wasn't going to be the end after all. After a few of those, Kiesten gave a very definite wrap-up signal with her "Because today" line, which then gave me permission to go to town and set up a nice musical ending.

Photo by Al Caeiro

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