Opening Night in the Press

People have said many wonderful things about Opening Night: The Improvised Musical! over the years. Here are some of the words that were actually written down in public forums. To disagree with them would be libelous!

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  • Los Angeles Times
  • The LAWeekly
  • IN LA
  • Los Angeles Magazine
  • Oil and Marble
Logo for the Los Angeles Times "When all the parts come together it can be awe-inspiring; it’s usually even funnier when they don’t." 
Logo for the LAWeekly Best of LA - All Singing, All Dancing, All Made Up on the Spot - 2010
"You'll Laugh Every Time"
"A Comedy Machine"
"Too Slick to be Completely Improvised" 
Logo for "A kind of magic"
"This is mastery of the craft. This is talent in action."
Logo for "Fans of really good improv comedy should really not miss Opening Night"
Logo for IN Magazine "An incomparable piece of insanity"
Logo for Los Angeles Magazine "You provide the subject: they score
and choreograph it on the spot!"
OIL AND MARBLE "This show will make you rethink the role of music in the stories of our lives"
"Love musicals or hate 'em, you'll never see them the same way after this show"
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Los Angeles Times

May 2018
The 99-Seat Beat by Margaret Gray

Just as you can never step twice in the same river, you will experience a particular performance only once. This weekend you can catch “Opening Night: The Improvised Musical,” whose every show is created from scratch in Hollywood; explore Caryn Desai’s staging of “Cardboard Piano” in Long Beach; see how Jane Anderson has retrofitted her play “The Baby Dance” for a new generation of would-be parents; or encounter Theresa Rebeck’s “Seminar” in a more intimate setting. No matter what you pick, you can be sure that nobody else will have the exact same experience in the days to follow.

“Opening Night: The Improvised Musical” The essentials: Director, actress and singer Shulie Cowen and her veteran L.A. troupe put an unusual spin on improv: The audience suggests a storyline, and the performers develop it into a “Broadway-style” (OK, low budget) musical complete with melodies, harmonies and choreography. When all the parts come together it can be awe-inspiring; it’s usually even funnier when they don’t.

Why this? “Opening Night” was a staple of Hollywood nightlife from 1998 until its regular venue, iO West, closed in February. The Second City has given this hour-long show, which the L.A. Weekly described as “an upper” with “guaranteed laughs,” a home for the summer.

Details: The Second City Studio Theater, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 9:30 p.m. Fridays; ends Aug. 17. $12. (323) 464-8542 or

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The LAWeekly

October - 2010

On Friday nights, when you need cheering up, go see Opening Night: The Improvised Musical (now in its 12th year) at IOWest. Guaranteed laughs. An upper. For only $10 (and you can use your ticket next time for a $5 admission), the cast improvises an hourlong Broadway-style musical. They're so adept at this complex form that you'll swear it's not improvised. But it is. Come back again and again — you'll laugh every time. You might see a rock musical, a Sondheim-style show, a historical epic; it all depends on the title the audience suggests and the piano accompanist's whim. Valet park at the corner of Cosmo and Hollywood (between Cahuenga and Vine). Ten steps to the theater and you're in. Full bar and free popcorn. Your date, your friends, even your visiting uncle will love it. --Ann Hall

August - 1999

Opening Night: The Improvised Musical takes it's cues from the audience. Though this sounds like a recipe for disaster, the members of the group (Bill Chott, Shulie Cowen, Dave Cox, Wayman Barnes, Derek Miller, Norm Thoeming, Paul Vaillancourt) juggle those ill-at-ease bedfellows, spontaneity and control, with mind-boggling panache.

The show is hardly spectator participatory; a random shouted-out phrase from the audience is all that's needed to set this comedy machine in motion. Granted, Opening Night is not seamless but that's part of the fun. In fact, it's those lulls in which you can practically see the actors' synapses firing as their thoughts vector off into 10 directions that most tickle the crowd. On the night I attended, the cast repeatedly burst into song over bootleg gelato, monkeys and haircuts (Allen Simpson's bubbly organ-vamping really helps drive the narrative), but it's pointless to discuss content here since each performance is unique.

The show seems just a little too slick to be completely improvised, as billed. Silly thought that. Devotees of the stage would never pull such a con...would they?

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Thought of the Week
"Ode to 'Opening Night: The Improvised Musical'" [07/03/2010]

Los Angeles is lousy with talent. Just as the plethora of beautiful men and women on the streets (and in the stores, and everywhere else) start to blend into the palm-lined boulevards, it's easy to become immune to the charms of so many funny, clever, quick-witted people. When you see theater or hear music or comedy in this city you expect excellence -- or at least what passes for it in a society whose cultural norms make folks like Adam Sandler and Chris Rock the emperors of entertainment. LA is home to a thriving live-performance scene; there's not a day of the week when an intrepid ticket buyer can't find stellar talent doing their thing on small stages in every precinct of town.

Improv Olympic West, the LA-branch of the Chicago-based institution -- Second City also has an emerging presence here in Hollywood -- is one of the places where there's always a surfeit of talented funny smart people making up masterpieces on the spot. Every night some undiscovered genius is waiting to be discovered. But on Fridays at 9PM, the energy changes. The house is always packed, and the experience is almost always exhilarating and memorable. That's when "Opening Night: The Improvised Musical" turns the small IOWest theater into a Broadway palace. The five-person troupe, around since 1998 in various incarnations, supplies the extravagant scenery and props -- helicopter, anyone? -- and the choreography, and the songs (music and lyrics) and the book and the entr’acte and interstitial motifs. And it's all made-up.

What happens at "Opening Night" seems like a kind of magic. From a single audience-suggested title -- last week was "Dinosaur Tyranny" -- the improvisers construct a cogent and surprisingly touching 60-minute Broadway musical, only funnier. There’s a controlling logic, though, that transforms potential chaos into narrative and musical organization. The effect on newcomers and veteran show goers is often astonishing, like watching a master jazz vocalist construct a scat solo from familiar chord changes. The signposts mark the way; the artist blazes the path. Whether you’ve been watching the troupe for nearly 10 years, like me, or you’re a recent convert, the alchemy of writing stories and songs on the spot never fades, because like the jazz musicians they emulate the Opening Nighters don’t repeat themselves. The show happens once and then it’s gone.

There’s something wildly inspiring about the show’s promise of rebirth, of knowing that something will be made of nothing, that characters will “come alive” (and die) – and that a whole new cast of protagonists and villains will take their place a week later.

The current troupe is a solid unit of good listeners whose blazing intelligence and wit compensates for their occasional musical bobbles. Watching them spontaneously imagine a new melody, or an apposite rhyme, or a lovely harmony note provides a kind of voyeuristic thrill: you’re observing a stranger think under pressure. Some of them have been doing “Opening Night” for so long – Norm Thoeming has been there from the beginning – that the putative anxiety of being confronted with a blank space in need of filling no longer panics them, it pleases them. This is mastery of the craft. This is talent in action. Though “Opening Night” is an accomplished ensemble, the Grand Wizard of the Magickal Arts is the group’s co-founder and ongoing director, Shulie Cowen. Thin and small like a sprite, Cowen has a gigantic voice in the Broadway belter tradition. She has fine pitch control and a firm grasp of music’s underlying logic. Often newcomers in the audience have to be convinced that the songs Cowen creates in concert with “Opening Night”’s superb pianist Andrew Melton are indeed made-up.

What’s most enjoyable about watching Shulie Cowen in “Opening Night” is her ability to synthesize and synchronize disparate bits of information offered by her cast-mates into a seemingly inevitable story, with a narrative arc and a point – and funny allusions and relevant metaphors. And functional characters. When the plot is flagging or what might come next is unclear, she can be counted on to instantly discover a nimble solution.

Shulie Cowen may not be a genius, but what she does is consistently ingenious, and if you attend “Opening Night” frequently, or throughout the years, you begin to suspect that what you’re seeing is an artist at the height of her powers, doing something so beautifully that a new standard has been set for all those who aspire to the craft. Was this how horn players felt when Charlie Parker came along? “Opening Night” is jazz. “Opening Night” is comedy. It’s jazz comedy. And it’s an institutional reminder that living in a city that’s lousy with talent is a blessing.

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Fans of really good improv comedy should really not miss Opening Night: The Improvised Musical at Improv Olympic West each Friday night. The drill is simple: an ensemble of overwhelmingly talented improv performers is given a show title and a one sentence premise…that's it. They then create a 60 minute musical, complete with songs, right before your very eyes.

Believe us when we say this will be the best $10 you've spent in a very long time!

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IN Magazine - LA

“Opening Night: The Improvised Musical,” is an incomparable piece of insanity. Using only title and setting supplied by audience suggestion, the five member troupe, (Bill Chott, Shulie Cowen, Dave Cox, Derek Miller and Norm Thoeming), literally improvise an entire, miniature two-act musical, completely from scratch and for that evening only: Opening Night is closing night as well. The reviewed performance screamingly touched on everything from caffeine addiction to woman’s equality in the workplace to Japanese sumo wrestling. Special mention must be made of Bill Larkin, the ingenious accompanist, who keeps up with every curveball hurled by the inspired players.

IN LA Magazine January 17, 2000

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Los Angeles Magazine

You provide the subject: they score and choreograph it on the spot!


June 2016

Art of Los Angeles: 10 Thought-Provoking Shows You Shouldn't Miss (#7) --Stephanie Storey

The Art of Musicals. Every night is opening night. Off an audience suggestion, Broadway erupts on a stage in LA. It’s funny and touching; pure joy wrapped up in song. For me, music is tied to memory, so I end up not only enjoying the show, but taking a trip down memory lane. This show will make you rethink the role of music in the stories of our lives — how those songs bind us, move us, shake us, change us… Love musicals or hate ’em, you’ll never see them the same way after this show