Musical satirizes Boston transportation

Musical satirizes Boston transportation

By Caroline Boschetto, news staff

Amid the sound of screeching train wheels and beeping Charlie Card sensors, three new friends struggle to navigate a corrupt public transit system, which they believe is the root of their personal misfortunes. As they zipped around Boston’s underground railways fighting the villainous T employees, these locals discovered that they themselves are not so different from the subway lines they love to hate.

Their adventures did not actually take place on Boston’s T, however, but instead on the stage of ImprovBoston during a performance of “T: An MBTA Musical”.

“T” aroused laughs from the audience on Friday, April 8, through the show’s comedic portrayal of the flaws of Boston’s public transit system. It poked fun at the MBTA’s longtime problems, such as its frequent delays and more recent issues, like the end of late-night train service and the incident when a Red Line train left the station without an operator on board.

The show portrays Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) workers as evil minions of the general manager of the month, a supervillain whose mission is to ruin people’s lives via the T’s subpar transit service.  

“I think anyone that has had to deal with the MBTA in Boston will relate to most of the show if not all of it,” Sarah Pelrin, ImprovBoston house manager, said. “We have a lot of fantastic shows, but I think ‘T’ can appeal to a broader crowd.”

Pelrin said that the musical is different from other ImprovBoston shows because the majority of productions require fewer props and less preparation.

“It did so well here, and it’s such a funny show that we were happy to have it back,” Pelrin said.

“T” first ran in 2011 at ImprovBoston and then had a second run at American Repertory Theater’s OBERON stage. According to the musical’s writer, Mike Manship, the show was brought back because transit problems caused by last year’s winter made the show once again relevant.

“Last winter was such a disaster for the T. People couldn’t drive. People couldn’t take the T with all the snow,” Manship said. “I think [bringing back the show] was a little bit of a prophetic move.”

Twenty-nine-year-old Emily Laverdiere who plays the lead, Alice, in the current run of “T” played the same character in the 2012 production and was an ensemble member in 2011.

Although Laverdiere said that acting in “T” was a fun and rewarding experience, she complained about the irony of having to ride the T to work.

“There was a train [that I was on] that was taken out of service because it was smoking,” Laverdiere said.

She said that while the show centers around Boston’s T, she believes that the story is truly about the people who run and use the transit system. She also said that her frustration with the system motivates her performance.

“It’s amazing what bonding over a bad transit experience can do for your personal growth and growth of friendships,” she said.

Audience member Steve Lunt of Somerville said that he particularly liked how the musical depicted the range of excuses that the MBTA has for out-of-service trains, including switching errors, fires and other mishaps.

“I thought it was hilarious,” Lunt said. “I ride the T everyday so I thought they did a really good job of having a good time with it.”

Lisa Purdy from Cambridge said that she liked how the show united local residents through a common experience.

“I think it pulls on a lot of cultural references that people in Boston love to have comradery about,” Purdy said. “Just the catharsis and exclamation of the anger is pretty relatable.”

Manship said that last week, an MBTA board member came to see the show and meet the cast. According to Manship, she had a good time.

“The show makes fun of the T but then also, at the end, it makes fun of us,” he said. “It has some playful stuff to say and some legitimate critiques that [the MBTA] has heard over and over so it can’t be news to them.”

Manship also said that, despite the fact that his musical portrays MBTA employees lurking and cackling across the stage, he believes that the actual T workers are doing the best that they can.

“I do think there are a lot of smart, well-meaning people involved with the MBTA,” Manship said. “I think it’s kind of a mystery to everybody. […] Why can’t the T do what other public transit systems do?”

Manship said he would love for “T” to continue running at ImprovBoston in the future.

“I think the perfect lampoon idea would be if we added a bunch of shows and canceled them in the spirit of the T,” he said.

“T: An MBTA Musical” will be running at ImprovBoston until May 20.

Photo courtesy Matt Glotsow

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