Friday, July 15.
A theater in Chicago, Illinois.
Just after midnight.
There's a buzz in this place. Something big is about to happen, something that's been anticipated for years. Surprisingly, there are empty seats. Nevertheless, the energy and enthusiasm of those present is tangible.
A young Brit is drunk. A young Californian looks terrified. An Australian sits between them, a big outback smile on her face. What could bring such a diverse group of people together at such a late hour? The answer is obvious if you're in the room.
Mr JM Manship is about to perform live improvisation for the first time in Chicago.
He hasn't set foot on the stage without a script for more than five years. Truth be told, he hasn't more than dabbled in improvisation for more than seven. But here he is, about to perform under the roof of an organization that birthed such geniuses as Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Egon.
After several short scenes ("previews," one could call them), Manship takes the stage. His task: to perform a game of "Sing It" with a fellow iO student, a man he's never met before but with whom he is about to co-star in a short musical. The suggestion of "roommates" is given. The scene begins.
Almost immediately, the game's host instructs Manship and his fellow performer to, as the game's name implies, "sing." Manship, dominated by the larger, more aggressive player at first, sings nothing. Then, with a burst of drama, he locks into a theme. He finds his voice and, with pitch-perfect vocal agility, stands up to his fictional roommate, singing directly to the large man's face. They tango. They waltz. Finally, in an act of utter victory, Manship lays a fist into his adversary's chest, and the man falls to the floor. The song ends. The scene ends. The audience laughs and applauds.
The evening continues, and important and funny things happen, but there are no more games of "Sing It."
Less than an hour later, Manship and the other performers leave the theater. An Asian man, recognizing Manship from the stage no doubt, tells him, "Dude, I bet I can ride your bike faster than you." Manship declines the opportunity to find out and, an hour and a half later, he is asleep, his bike safely stashed in his living room.
The next day, the reviews are out:
"[Manship] shows us the man [the roommate in this game of "Sing It" has] been forced to become. It's a real performance, layered and even moving." -- Norman Wilner, NOW Toronto
"["Sing It"] balances physical action and emotional development, loud moments and quiet ones, and it's that balance that makes it such a satisfying and proper finish." -- Rob Thomas, Capital Times
"["Sing It"] ends . . . on a triumphant note. It is a memorable and moving conclusion that will leave you wishing for more." -- Bob Bloom, Journal and Courier
"As they say, all good things must come to an end. But in this instance, you can feel solace in knowing the [Manship] can belt out one heck of a final note." - Adam Tobias, Watertown Daily Times
"The definition of a classic." - Colin Covert, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
"When [Sing It] was over, a young boy sitting behind me said, 'That was great!' He was satisfied, and rightly so." -- David Denby, The New Yorker
"This is the way The Harry Potter saga was meant to end." -- Laremy Legel, Film.com
I don't really understand that last one.
People who have not yet begun to climb the fame ladder, hear this final note! The best compliments you regular folk can give us famous and soon-to-be-famous folk are still the simple ones. Which is why the review closest to my heart comes from a kind waitress, who told me as I left the theater:
"You were funny,"
"You were in 'Sing It,' right?"
Friday, July 15, almost exactly twelve hours later. Mr JM Manship calls the Second City training center and schedules an audition for their conservatory. The audition: Friday, July 29, 2:00 pm. That's right. 'Sing It' was not the end. Two weeks and fourteen hours after the end of his now-legendary debut, Manship will pen the first words of another chapter.