John Mulaney in The 24 Hour Musicals

Jenny Anderson/Getty Images for 24 Hour Musical

24 Hour Musicals: Mix creativity and talent overnight, then serve on Broadway

November 05, 2018 - 11:37 am

Elizabeth Sherwood for 1010 WINS

NEW YORK -- How do you make something theatrical out of nothing with only 24 hours to do it? This was the challenge that actors, writers, and composers from every pocket of the theater world accepted at the annual 24 Hour Musicals performance this past Monday.

And the feat was a success - the cast and creative team got together, wrote the musicals, and then performed them without a hitch (well, maybe one or two).

Patti Murin currently stars in Frozen the Musical on Broadway. How easy was it to separate what she learned in one day from what she performs every day? 

"Oh, very easily. It's my day off so it's nice to sort of jump into something that's so fast and so different and you have no idea what it's going to be," she told 1010 WINS,


This unconventional approach to musical theater is what attracted some big stars and Broadway mainstays to participate in the show's tenth iteration and first time on Broadway. Among them this year were actors Bebe Neuwirth, Lea DeLaria, Savion Glover, Norm Lewis, John Mulaney, and Will Swenson; writers and composers Ashley Nicole Black, Kirsten Childs, Jonathan Coulton, and Aimee Mann, also took part. 

And how did Executive Director Mark Armstrong get such big names to participate? He asked.

The process began Sunday night at 9pm. The director, actors, composers, lyricists, and other members of the team convened to put their creative heads together. For inspiration, the actors brought something to share—an interesting object, a costume piece, a special skill that they have, or just an idea about something they’d love to do on stage.

"They say things like, I've always wanted to play a villain who dies in a horrible fire," Mr. Armstrong told 1010 WINS.

The cast of the 24 Hour Musical.
Jenny Anderson/Getty Images for 24 Hour Musical

Patti Murin performs during the 24 Hour Musical.
Jenny Anderson/Getty Images for 24 Hour Musical

Rehearsal for The 24 Hour Musical.
Jenny Anderson/Getty Images for 24 Hour Musical

The cast performing during the 24 Hour Musical.
Jenny Anderson/Getty Images for 24 Hour Musical

The audience wondered, what special skill did Norm Lewis prepare? Hasn't he done it all? Then he whipped out an impeccable Audra McDonald impression and the question is answered.

It's those personal touches that draw actors to perform in the 24-Hour Musicals, and has drawn them for the last ten years.

"So many of them have such full creative lives and they're known in the popular imagination for one thing, whether they played a certain kind of character on a TV show or they're recognized for one aspect of their talent. And our audience gets to see different things that they can do," he said.

Armed with the troupe’s ideas, the composers and writers worked all night on four 15-to-20 minute musicals, refining their work into the wee hours of the morning. By 9am Monday, the actors returned, received their scripts, and began to memorize and rehearse so they were ready to perform at 8 that night.

"You can't do anything but say yes on a day like this, there's no negotiation... and then we get to do this crazy thing in front of all these people. It's another thing about our community that I just love," Ms. Murin told 1010 WINS.

Murin's show was about the Family Kielbasa, a band performing on a cruise ship in the 1970's, wondering what the future would hold.

The audience was in on the whole conceit and the experience with them.

"It’s fun for them to see this combination of people doing something, with the knowledge that they’ve just received the scripts that morning, they've just memorized them, and they’ve just learned the songs and choreography," Mr. Armstrong said. "Every time there is a short pause, the audience starts laughing because the immediate thought is 'oh, someone forgot their line.' And even if they didn't, the audience has that sort of razor's edge 'anything could go wrong at any moment' sense that adds to the fun of it."

The one-night-only show was held Monday at 8pm at the American Airlines Theatre in Times Square. The evening's proceeds went toward a program run by the 24-Hour Company supporting theatre professionals 25 and younger, as well as The Lilly Awards Foundation's work supporting women in theatre.

As Mr. Armstrong sums it up, "It's safe to say that this is the biggest production we’ve produced in our 23-year history. It's really astonishing how many people and resources have come together around this one night."