Musical Director Laura Hall discusses her love for “Whose Line Is it Anyway?”
Laura Hall thought she was going to become a serious composer of symphonic music.
“I went to get my degree in music,” said the Chicago native and resident, who earned her bachelor’s in music in 1984 at Loyola University Chicago. “I thought I was going to be that kind of composer, but I realized that world did not quite fit me.”
Ms. Hall discovered a less serious destiny, but one with a lot of creativity: improv.
And since “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” started in 1998, Ms. Hall has been its musical director, improvising melodies at her keyboards while comedians such as Wayne Brady improvise the lyrics.
“Whose Line?” will start its new season Oct. 14 on The CW.
“Whose Line is It Anyway?” originally ran from 1998 to 2007 with Drew Carey as the host on ABC. It was rebooted in 2013 on The CW with Aisha Tyler as the host but still with the original cast of Mr. Brady, Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles and frequent guest comedian Greg Poops.
The show is based on well-known improvisational acting games, such as “New Choice,” when players must come up with a different line when the director says “new choice.”
On Sunday, Ms. Hall and her husband, improvisational actor Rick Hall, performed with local improvisational actors at the Alcazar Theatre in Carpinteria. They also taught workshops on Sunday and Monday on the South Coast, as they have elsewhere on their tour.
In October, fans will see Ms. Hall in new “Whose Line?” episodes behind the keyboards, where she has stood and improvised melodies in a format where anything can happen.
“The core of what I love about improv is that it’s different all the time,” Mrs. Hall told the News-Press. “It’s always different even when it’s the same game you’ve played a bunch of different times. It’s the thing that makes me love improv in general. It’s why I like to teach it; it’s why I like to perform.”
Ms. Hall got involved with improv when she was working as, in her words, “a coat check girl” and later a waitress in the 1980s for the famous Second City improvisational troupe in Chicago.
The troupe discovered she played the piano when she hung out with them in the theater in-between shows, and she accompanied the actors as they had fun singing music by the Eagles and others. “Someone would pull out a guitar or a harmonica.”
So without having to audition, she was recruited to play piano for Second City during its tours.
That set the stage for her entry into “Whose Line?,” where she has loved creating whatever music is needed at the moment, from rock to jazz to country to genre music such as Westerns or film noir.
Her favorite games include “Conducted Song.”
“ ‘Conducted Story’ is where you talk as long as you’re pointed to by the conductor. ‘Conducted Song’ is the same thing, but you’re singing,” Mrs. Hall told the News-Press. “You have to be listening to each other.”
In fact, Mrs. Hall noted, all of improv is one big listening exercise.
Mrs. Hall said she loves when Mr. Brady and Jeff Davis or Mr. Brady and Chip Esten team up on “Whose Line” to sing “Greatest Hits” — titles created by Mr. Stiles or Mr. Mochrie. As they sing, the actors make up the lyrics, while Mrs. Hall improvises the melodies.
Mrs. Hall added that she loves when Mr. Brady and others sing to a person who is randomly picked from the studio audience. “When the audience member gets into it, it’s great.”
One person who stands out in Mrs. Hall’s memory is someone she calls the “cafeteria lady.”
“She was just so charming and so excited to be there. It made me happy that these two (actors) were singing to her. She was a lunch lady at a middle school,” Mrs. Hall said. “Those kinds of moments when the audience is really engaged are my favorites.”
The “Whose Line” cast and guest stars are often seen running unexpectedly into the audience and bringing the fans into the skits.
“Robin Williams ran into the audience and did his preacher character,” Mrs. Hall said. “He’s out in the audience, running around and laying his hands on people. It was a really funny moment.”
“We had Florence Henderson on,” Mrs. Hall said, referring to the star who played Carol Brady on “The Brady Bunch” and was a singer as well as an actress. “”She stood backstage and chatted it up with (guitarist) Linda (Taylor) and me. SHe was a fantastic person.
“We had Sid Caesar on,” Mrs. Hall said, referring to the iconic TV and movie comedy star known for the live 1950s variety show “Your Show of Shows.” “He was so lovely, such a gentleman, very charming. Drew just adored him. He was a comedy legend.”
“I really admire when someone who’s a big star is kind and gracious to people,” Mrs. Hall said. “That’s what I admire about Drew and Aisha.
“Drew is one of those guys who wants everyone to having a good time,” Mrs. Hall said. “He wants the atmosphere to be happy and good. He is as nice to the woman who serves coffee as he is to the president of the network. He is a nice guy who says, ‘How are you doing?’ I was so impressed by him.
“Even when Drew ripped the audience (with a joke), he was never mean,” Mrs. Hall said.
While Mr. Carey and Ms. Tyler have different personalities and styles, Ms. Tyler is friendly and gracious in the way Mr. Carey was, Mrs. Hall said.