- This is the very nature of Improv acting. During a performance, all of the actors do this, taking whatever the others do and running with it, no matter what it is.
- In any non-improv show that has a flub (be it dropped line, missed cue, or even an issue with the set) the actors must find a way to continue the show without giving away to the audience that all hell has broken loose. Blessings on those actors who carry on, and do so in character.
- Les Misérables:
- Given that not all recordings have it, it seems likely that Thenardier referring to Cosette as "Colette" in the "Waltz of Treachery" was thrown in at some point, and is fairly common in productions of the musical. In the film, this ad-lib was turned into a Running Gag.
- During one rehearsal for "On My Own", the actress was so nervous she wrapped her arms around herself. The directors liked this, and it has been a part of the musical ever since.
- The exclaimed "Enjolras!" at the start of the ABC Cafe Scene was originally an ad-lib that is now fairly common. (Notably this the only time Enjolras is directly called by his name throughout the entire musical.)
- As recounted in the book Making It On Broadway: Actor's Tales of Climbing to The Top, John Rubenstein, the original Pippin, had very bad bunions on his feet that made him reject every pair of shoes that the costume department ordered for him. In a fit of pique, he resolved to do the entire show barefoot one night. It was uncomfortable, but he did it. Bob Fosse ran in to see him at the end of the night, and Fosse said, "John, I loved what you did tonight. Keep it in. Barefoot! Gives you that innocence." To this day, the title role in Pippin, wherever you go, is done barefoot.
- Spamalot: The scene where the French soldiers are taunting Arthur and his knights has become famous for ad-libs. One famous showing of Spamalot in New York City featured the French soldiers spitting out "I throw both my shoes at you!" in reference to the recent incident where an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President Bush. The actors were visibly smiling and trying not to laugh on stage.
- Also, "I headbutt you!" after the infamous headbutting incident in the 2006 FIFA World Cup involving the French player, Zidane.
- Another from Spamalot: The Knights Who Said Ni have also become famous for ad-libs, and one showing received a lot of attention when one of the knights blurted out "And I am the father of Sarah Palin's daughter's baby!" The actors barely managed to stay in character.
- Another — the evening after the announcement that Obama was to receive a Nobel Prize, the lead Knight Who Says Ni said they were changing their name to... a whole lot of stuff having to do with the Nobel, ending with, "And can we send Dick Cheney to accept the prize? Hey, it worked on Roman Polanski!"
- At another performance during Tim Curry's run as King Arthur, the new name for the Knights Who Formerly Said Ni finished off with "Come on up to the lab and see what's on the slab." Curry apparently had a VERY hard time keeping his composure.
- Yet another: In a Chicago show a short while after Rod Blagojevich had been impeached due charges of trying to sell Obama's former Senate seat, one Knight conducted a one-man auction for the Senate seat in question and the French Taunter included the line "We impeach your crooked governors!"
- When doing a show in Austin Texas, the Knights changed their name into the song "The Eyes of Texas" although they claimed it was actually the new Homeland Security motto.
- In light of the Seattle Seahawks' Super Bowl victory, the 2014 5th Avenue Theatre production included a 12th Knight.
- "Diva's Lament" originally had the line "They're trying to replace me with Posh Spice", which following Britney Spears' Creator Breakdown in 2008 was changed to "I'm constantly replaced by Britney Spears", then in 2014 was replaced again with a reference to Miley Cyrus' VMA twerking performance.
- The Screen-to-Stage Adaptation of The Producers has a number of these:
- On the opening night, Nathan Lane improvised the line "Who do you have to fuck to get a break in this town?" in the middle of the song "The King of Broadway." It's been that way ever since, including in the movie.
- Tony Danza played Max Bialystock on Broadway for a stint, despite the fact that it is referenced in the script that Max is fat and Tony Danza is certainly not. When they got to the iconic line where Bloom screams "FAAAAT!", Danza would look confused and say "...what?" and Bloom replied "You were fat... once...." and proceeded to call him "You once-fat fatty fat walrus!!"
- During the London production of the show, directly after the scene where Max and Leo have just taken Siegfried Oath and are trying to leave Franz's rooftop, Nathan Lane, playing Max, tried to open the door leading offstage, but a stagehand had mistakenly locked it before the scene began. When the door didn't open at first, Lane shouted "We're trapped! Trapped like rats with a crazy Nazi!" When another one of the stagehands rushed to unlock it, Lane calmed down and said, "Got it." You can still see part of this in the 2005 film version.
- In one of the performances of the 2004 revival of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins, the actor who played Gerald Ford tripped while entering the stage and fell flat on his face. However, since Ford had a history of accidentally tripping and falling (most notoriously down the stairs of Air Force One), the cast ran with it and it became a fixture of the scene in question for most subsequent adaptations.
- During one of the rehearsals for the final scene of The Phantom of the Opera, the wedding veil Sarah Brightman was wearing fell off as she left the Phantom for the last time. Michael Crawford, in the title role, picked up the veil and buried his face in it, sobbing "Christine!" the whole time. It was left in and still continues to be an important bit of business for the character twenty years later.
- Various examples from the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas:
Ella: The love of maidens is, to him, as interesting as the taxes!
- The bit in The Pirates of Penzance where the Pirate King engages in a sword fight with the baton-wielding conductor of the orchestra was originally improvised by John Clark, the actor who originated the role on Broadway. Sullivan, who personally conducted the orchestra during the opening performance, so enjoyed hamming it up a little that he convinced Gilbert to rewrite the script to include it. Most performances of Penzance still feature such a fight.
- In Patience, there is a scene where Bunthorne's admirers are commiserating on their unrequited love for him. Gilbert scripted the following exchange, minus the final line, introduced by the actress playing Saphir but liked by Gilbert so much it is now part of the script:
Saphir: Would that it were. He pays his taxes!
Angela: And cherishes the receipts!
Saphir: Happy receipts!
- The Mikado has perhaps more of this than any other Gilbert and Sullivan play (e.g. "Modified rapture!") Gilbert himself encouraged producers to do the same: The "Knightsbridge" line invites the director to substitute a place known for scandal at the time instead of saying "Knightsbridge."
- At this point, it's probably easier to list the productions of Gilbert and Sullivan musicals that don't throw in a few topical or local references. Ko-Ko's "little list" song (which describes various people the world could easily do without) is particularly susceptible to additions.
- Monty Python performed during The Secret Policeman's Ball variety concert, putting on (of course) the Dead Parrot sketch. Halfway through, though, Michael Palin began to break up, unable to control himself. Although the audience had cottoned onto the problem and was already chuckling, John Cleese covered magnificently and sent the audience into hysterics with one, ad-libbed, shouted line: "THIS IS NOTHING TO LAUGH AT!"
- During a performance of the live-action Aladdin show at Disney's California Adventure, the actors' mics weren't functioning properly during the scene where Jafar gets the magic lamp from the Genie and asks for his three wishes. When he wishes to become Sultan, the actor playing Genie epically pulled damage control on the awkward moment by replying "You're the sultan. Don't know why your first wish couldn't have been for everybody's mics to work, but no, it's 'me me me me me me me!' " and pretty much brought the house down.
- In the premier performance of the opera Rigoletto, the singer performing the title role, though experienced, was so unsure of his performance (due to wearing a prosthetic hump; Rigoletto is a court jester) that he suffered severe stage fright. The director/author, realizing this, shoved him on stage. The audience thought his stumbling entrance was a scripted joke and loved it.
- During the run of the 1st version of The Scarlet Pimpernel musical, Douglas Sills (playing the title character) was notorious for ad libbing. Many of his ad libs became part of the scripts for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th versions of the show (yeah, it had a complicated run).
- A Very Potter Musical: Harry's line about what he'd do with an invisibility cloak ("I'd kick wiener dogs") was an ad-lib when Darren Criss forgot his line. Also, Lauren/Malfoy's line "And-you-have-to-be-my-slave-for-a-whole-day-starting-now!!" was an ad-lib, judging by Joe Moses and Joe Walker's reactions to the line, given that Moses usually kept relatively straight-faced (well, sort of), and he was laughing in the background.
- The "Oh, Goyle Rules!" line was thrown in by the actor as well.
- Apparently Voldemort's acknowledgement that "You'd think killing people might make them like you, but it doesn't. It just makes them dead," was thrown in too.
- Possibly subverted in A Very Potter Sequel when Ron/Joey Richter can't get the Taylor Lautner poster off the wall and proclaims, "It must be stuck on there with magic!" then when entering another room, "Wow. It's like every room in Hogwarts have been remodeled." This was either legit, or it was scripted for a good laugh.
- It was legitimate. Nick and Matt Lang, the creators of the show planned for that to happen because they wanted the audience to be thoroughly surprised by what Peter Pettigrew really was. They later admitted that it made no sense to try that hard to trick the audience.
- Since A Very Potter Senior Year was only done once, with little to no preparation time, a few things went wrong. This being Team Starkid, you bet they threw some lines in. Most notably, when Darren Criss turned his tie in an absolute mess, he threw "F*ck the tie!" into the reprise of 'Going Back To Hogwarts', and turned the already awesome song into a hilarious moment.
- When a prop from U.S.L.E.S. 's production of Aladdin was missing from the final performance (the ring which housed the evil genie) a replacement had to be found at short notice. The villain ended up being the Genie of the Shoe, and Abanazer threatening characters with cries of "Shooooooooeeeee!" ended up being the show's funniest running gag. Children in the audience were even asking to smell the evil shoe.
- The sex between Kate Monster and Princeton during "You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You're Makin' Love)" in Avenue Q was originally supposed to be under a blanket, but apparently one day during rehearsal, John Tartaglia and Stephanie D'Abruzzo started playing around with the naked puppets to see what it would look like over the sheets. The choreographer liked it so much that Avenue Q is considered by many to be puppet porn even today.
- The Reduced Shakespeare Company often changes lines in their script on the spot, and there are even a few parts in the script that are deliberately changed every performance. As an example, towards the end of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), they perform Hamlet backwards, advising the audience to "listen out for the Satanic messages!". The second line in this scene is different every time - the official script book has it as "Judas Priest is God!", and many variations such as "George Bush is a genius!" and "Frank Sinatra is God!" have been heard.
- The script book also mentions in a footnote that there is a section of time set aside somewhere in the middle of the play for Adam Long (or rather, his replacement as of 2003) to go off on an improvised rant about, to quote the book, "whatever bug he has up his butt at the time".
- The song "Before The Parade Passes By" in Hello, Dolly! was written in half an hour to replace a different song, "Penny in my Pocket", which wasn't doing well in rehearsals.
- A Little Night Music: Desiree's spoken exclamations in "The Glamorous Life" ("Where the hell is the stage manager?" and "No hot water again!") were originally ad-libbed by Jean Simmons of the original London cast.
- The 2014 5th Avenue Theatre/ACT co-production of Little Shop of Horrors had one of the dancers wear a blue and gold Tigers letterman jacket, in reference to Vanities: The Musical, which the theatres previously co-produced in 2011.
- Roy Atwell got hit hard with Leslie Nielsen Syndrome and his trademark word-confusion when he, new to Broadway, flubbed a line on the opening night and made the audience laugh. Luckily for him he was asked to deliver it the next night.
- During a 1700s performance of Richard III, when Richard learns that his former friend Buckingham has been arrested, the actor playing Richard forgot his next line and ad-libbed "Off with his head — so much for Buckingham!" (the line was perfect iambic pentameter). This ended up as traditional and Olivier used it in his 1950s movie.
- In the Act II opening number of Hamilton What'd I Miss, Jefferson's following reply was improvised by Daveed Diggs early in the show's run off-Broadway, but director Lin-Manuel Miranda loved it so much he requested that Diggs include the line every night and wrote it into the script when the show made the move to Broadway.Madison: Where have you been?
Jefferson: Uh, France?
- During one performance of Tosca the famous soprano Maria Jeritza tripped and fell just before Tosca's great aria Vissi d'arte. Rather than climb awkwardly back up again to sing, she chose to remain on the floor for the duration of the aria. This worked very well, as Tosca has just reached her Despair Event Horizon, and it became more or less traditional for sopranos to sing Vissi d'arte while lying on the floor.
- Speaking of Tosca, baritone Tito Gobbi had such a moment he played for all it was worth. In the early 1960s, he co-starred with Maria Callas in a set of performances in Londonnote . One night, the knife she's supposed to stab him with failed to retract and he was actually stabbed. He screamed "Dio mio!" (off script), put his hand inside his shirt and found he was bleeding but not seriously. He proceeded to take advantage of the blood et al., and died so convincingly that Maria could be heard whispering "Tito! Tito! Are you all right?" This was typical of Gobbi, who focused on the dramatics in a role as much as on the vocals.
Throw It In / Theatre