"Inside Voices: A Musical in the Key of P" could be called a musical about nothing... and yet it has everything. Rich with humour and vulnerability, it's a hilarious and riveting hour - a deceptively simple concept that belies the incredible skill required to pull it off so effectively.
As the title hints, this show is in fact about something - the idea of letting our "inside voices" be heard by one and all... and finding out what happens when they do. But performers Jennifer Pielak (who speaks and sings) and Peter Abando (who plays piano, and speaks and sings a bit) take this idea and make it fly.
By 30 seconds in, Pielak had completely engaged us by just speaking with evident honesty about her nervous energy and her vulnerablity in stepping on the stage. Abando was right with her every step of the way, and he was neither leading nor following - it was a collaboration in every single moment.
Confession: having only read the Fringe site's summary of this show, I actually was unaware that it was an entirely improvised musical - which had me really thinking as it unfolded before me. I did have my suspicions, having read about the duo's OTHER presentataion, a workshop on creating... an improvised musical! But Pielak's monologue was so personal, so energized and thoughtful, the musical aspect so easily integrated, that it was easy to wonder if only part of the show was improvised. But which part? It soon became evident (and this is the highest compliment) that they were making it all up as they went along. In the true spirit of improv, she was taking every performer's inner struggle, and turning it into a self-aware, self-critical stream of consciousness that was honest, engaging and delightful.
Audience interaction is an important part of the show, but not in the ways you'd expect from classic improv. Pielak called out friends and fellow performers she saw in the audience, had a fingertip-touching moment with a guy in the front row who had surprisingly fancy nails and a "cute beard", and near the very start of the show she asked for - and got - a hug from a certain audience member who was actually there to review the show. OK, it was me - and when she picked right up on my open, vulnerable and connected vibe like that, I confess I was pretty much on board.
Later, when someone else, a friend I think (she knew his first name) announced by way of apology/explanation after standing up to leave, "I'm going to pee.", the duo launched immediately into - what else! - a song about that fact, and about whether he would return. The comic tension built. When she finally just ran to the door, found him outside and brought him in, it was an moment of triumph, and waves of applause. Improv at its finest!
But there's more than just laughs. A theme of butterflies ran through the show and culminated in a brief but beautiful song that I could still hear after I left the theatre. But then, true to the nature of the show, she then questioned if the song was any good (it was). Pielak is also a very physical performer and uses her whole body to express her thoughts, now hunkering down to a Golllum-like figure to represent her inner critic, now slithering gracefully across the stage, now somehow "pinned" behind the piano.
This may be the most "meta" show I've ever seen, in that it derives its entire content from the simple lifting of the veil under which we normally hide our innermost thoughts, doubts and hopes.
Under a laid-back demeanor and (mostly but not always) silent presence, Abando is supremely talented on the keys, playing expertly and from all angles - including while the piano is being rolled around, or even while placed in an awkward pose by her stage partner.
So, while I can be sure that what you see will be very different in its details, I can say with confidence that this is a show you should not miss. Listen to your inside voice and go.