Pictured: Cast from NIGHT OF AWESOME. Photo courtesy of KC Improv.
Review: NIGHT OF AWESOME with Unusual Suspects: A Murder Mystery at KC Improv Company
By Marissa Carter
NIGHT OF AWESOME is a recurring improvisational comedy variety show produced by the KC Improv Company (KCIC). The show I attended featured KCIC performers UNUSUAL SUSPECTS: A MURDER MYSTERY and two local improv troupes Science Bros and Ham Kitty.
NIGHT OF AWESOME started off with Science Bros, a duo of science educators “exploring science using improv comedy and your questions.” After taking a science question from the audience, Science Bros answered the question using a casual discussion format. Then, seemingly at random, the two men would exchange a look and launch into an improv scene. After the scene, they would go back into science mode and take another question, repeating the process.
Though the improv scenes were funny, they were mostly unrelated to the topics that had been discussed, creating a disjointed feeling. The overall effect was an interesting mix of deep science talks and improv scenes that ended up feeling like a TED Talk with improv commercial breaks. Though this format is not for everyone (my companion for the show was less than thrilled), it was oddly satisfying for me since it addressed two sides of my geek personality at the same time. If nothing else, Science Bros left an excellent impression of Kansas City scientists with their genuine passion, easy conversation, and willingness to be silly and laugh at themselves.
Next up was Ham Kitty, a local all-female improvisational quintet. Before the start of the show, the audience was encouraged to put random objects into a bucket placed on stage. Ham Kitty now used this bucket as a basis for each of their scenes. One of the women would choose an object and show it to the audience, announcing what it was. Among other things, the objects included a box of cereal, a tiny plastic horse and a watermelon with googly eyes. Each new object prompted a new improvised scene, sometimes completely unrelated, and other times wrapping back to previous scenes to expand on the jokes the audience loved.
Throughout their set, the women worked together well, displaying perfect timing and ending each scene on a high note by grabbing for the bucket. As the energy of the show mounted, the real treat was hearing the comments that were made about each chosen object. These small asides connected the performers to the audience in a personal way so that when they launched into character, the audience was more than willing to go along with whatever the scene held.
The final set of the evening was UNUSUAL SUSPECTS: A MURDER MYSTERY, a regular in the KCIC lineup. This show promised a murder mystery, complete with clues, suspects, and lots of suspicious activities. The murder victim was chosen at the top of the show at random, but not revealed to the audience until the actual murder occurred. Once the victim was secured, the troupe asked for an unlikely location for the murder, and the audience supplied Chuck E. Cheese’s. With all the information they needed, the performers went to work.
I was really impressed with how this show played out. The performers set up the mystery with preliminary scenes that introduced each character and their backstories. We had several disgruntled employees, a confused management team, and a girl who dreamed of having her perfect 21st birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s.
After the murder, the characters find the body and identify the murder weapon (supplied by the audience.) The rest of the show is a hilarious blend of conversation and flashbacks that reveal the sinister side of each suspect, along with a few scandalous secrets. In the end, the audience chooses the murderer by an applause vote, and it is left to the performers to explain the motive and any remaining details behind the murder.
UNUSUAL SUSPECTS: A MURDER MYSTERY was a complete success. The KCIC performers were quick thinking and able to adapt to whatever situation was handed to them while still holding to their chosen characters and motivations. Their well-practiced murder mystery format is versatile enough to be fresh and original each time, yet structured enough to produce an actual story that is easy for the audience to follow and get absorbed in.
All in all, NIGHT OF AWESOME delivered on the promise of its name. The whole show was light and energetic, with great audience participation, talented local performers and plenty of surprises. It was exactly what a night of improv should be.
For more information on KC Improv visit KCImprov.com.