Starting from scratch, a frazzled but talented group of artists must write, cast, direct, rehearse and present four 20-minute Broadway musicals in 24 hours in “One Night Stand,” a documentary that perfectly conveys the creative insanity unleashed in the process. Using split-screens and intercutting between the four different playlets at each stage of development, helmers Elisabeth Sperling and Trish Dalton maintain nervous tension while revealing the quasi-miraculous process of building scripts, songs and characters out of thin air. This attractively lensed, dynamically edited NewFest award winner could fit an urban arthouse niche, and seems tailor-made for PBS or cable.
At an initial mass assembly, the writers, composers, choreographers, directors and actors all introduce themselves and deliver a little show and tell of any knickknacks or odd objects they might have brought along. The thesps among them belt out a few bars to demonstrate their musical range. Four random groupings of writers and composers are then sent off to select a cast and brainstorm throughout the night.
Plots crystallize around tentatively pitched ideas inspired by props, real life or the hidden potential of the chosen actors. The filmmakers keep tabs on two musicals developing organically, gags and lyrics piling up in separate bursts of inspiration. Another proceeds in fits and starts in a loose sketch structure, but a fourth barely gets off the ground, causing fears of non-completion. Sperling and Dalton unobtrusively deploy several cameras simultaneously, cutting among the teams without losing the thread or sacrificing momentum, all the while juxtaposing contrasting styles and levels of progress.
At the end of the long night, typed scripts and computer-recorded scores are handed out to be memorized, rehearsed and choreographed (and, in the final couple of hours, blocked, lit and musically arranged onstage). At this juncture, the actors tend to dominate the proceedings, particularly the inimitable Richard Kind, required to memorize multiple pages of lyrics and dialogue. Kind stars in “Islands,” about a failed Ponzi schemer who, evicted from his apartment, dreams of a new life on Staten Island.
Rachel Dratch’s mounting anxiety, unmistakably authentic as she worries about having to sing alongside bona fide divas, becomes infectious as she headlines “Rachel Said Sorry,” about a woman trying to apologize for drunken remarks she made at a friend’s prenuptial weekend. And the whole cast of “Multiphobia,” led by Theresa McCarthy, turns obsessive-compulsive hand-sanitizing into an art.
The one playlet that has trouble igniting, apart from some sexy moves by Scarlett Strallen, is the Cheyenne Jackson-headed “Dr. Williams,” which features three surgeon brothers who all have been romantically entangled with their patient.
The one-night-only performance served as a fundraiser for the Exchange, which supports innovative British and American theater.