Review: Music To Die For
Noted Wellington improv troupe Best on Tap is back performing this month with a new iteration of their grounded and clever improv in a show using your music suggestions! Music To Die For takes six songs that you (the audience) would play at your funeral and uses them to inspire layered, complex scenes about the life of the one person who would have those six songs at their funeral.
On opening night, we’re welcomed in by the Funeral Celebrant (Barry Miskimmin), who introduces us to Anna Lucy Edwards (Nicola Pauling). She’s an adventurer, spirited, and takes no shit. With the first song, Gloria Gayner’s “I Will Survive”, we fall into moments of Anna’s life – getting her own room, learning (in gruesome detail) about how she was born, and many more.
The show unfolds, drawing more and more upon the audience-chosen songs for inspiration. A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” turns Anna into a premier-league footballer, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’s “Bad Reputation” tells us the tale of how Anna’s parents (played by Kate Whittaker and Geoff Simmons) break up, and Leonard Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne” brings us into the final scenes of the play, where Anna and her husband (Tim Croft) have a baby, and the whole family finds themselves together again – at least, mostly, with Becky (Clare Kerrison) – Anna’s sister – on a Skype call from prison. Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” is the backdrop for a final series of “photos” – the actors frozen on stage in various moments of Anna’s life.
Best on Tap focusses on truth-based storytelling in their shows, and it’s at its very best here. While there are obviously a few leaps in logic, there’s always this excellent grounded quality in Best on Tap’s work which is deeply endearing: seeing real people make real human connections on stage, in a way that might be funny but isn’t goofy, with a hint of the melancholic.
Discussing death on stage isn’t easy, but Best on Tap truly hits the right balance – approaching death via a celebration of life. Best on Tap shows are always welcoming, always kind and always a bit silly, but that’s what makes me adore them, cause you always know what boat you’re on. The skill of the improvisers is what makes these shows what they are, with such truth in their words, and especially the visible trust between them: over a century’s worth of experience, or so their website says. Underscored by Matt Hutton on the keys and D’ Woods as their operator, the room takes on a kind of intimacy – today myself and a bunch of strangers really are here to celebrate Anna’s life.
When asked what song I’d play at my funeral, I don’t know. I scroll through my phone looking for something with appropriate gravitas, read through lyrics online, wonder if it’s the tone or the words that matter most. Finally, I settle on something that doesn’t feel quite right – but in the end, I won’t be there to see it. Though, I’m almost thankful I was asked.
Music to Die For is on at Te Auaha until Saturday. Tickets here.