For those of us who haven’t got beyond the singing into a hairbrush stage of performance (go on, you know you’ve done it), the thought of standing up in front of a real audience is frankly terrifying. So the idea of putting yourself up there with no prior knowledge of what you’re supposed to be saying or singing, sounds like a real squeaky bum moment that is either an act of extreme bravery or total madness. But that’s just what a company of seven hugely talented performers and three accomplished musicians do in Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, a wonderful show that does exactly what it says on the tin.
Every night the Showstoppers create a brand new musical around 80 minutes in length in front of our very eyes from ideas and styles collected from the audience by compere and the company’s co-founder Dylan Emery. The audience chooses the setting, the musical styles to be copied or parodied and the show’s title, and then it’s down to the performers to pull it all together and make it work. And boy do they make it work. What in less talented hands could become a car crash of stuttering “ums” and “ers” or awkward silences is instead a slick and hilarious show.
I went to see Showstopper! twice in three days and saw the team create Making Sparks — set in the first Marks and Spencer in 1884 and The Lyin’ King (see what they did there?) set in the offices of the Daily Mail. Each one had great characters, layered plots and reached heights of invention that some shows that have been months or even years in gestation can only dream about. And not only do they create a new musical every night, they create a new 11 o’clock number every night it seems. I was on the train afterwards with the title song from Making Sparks and the rousing My Time to Shine from The Lyin’ King still looping in my head.
At times you really have to remind yourself that they’re making this up as they go along.
Yes, you’ll get more out of it if you know your musicals and your composers — one number based on Sondheim in Making Sparks was absolutely spot-on — but it really isn’t essential
The Showstoppers have been together since 2008 and they are clearly relaxed, confident and totally in tune with each other. It moves along like a well-oiled machine, but still manages to retain a delightful spontaneity. They all sing and act like a dream and as you’d expect, they certainly know their musicals.
This is the first time an improv show has been given a full West End run and I for one hope it won’t be the last. It really is something you can go back to time and time again (perhaps the box office should offer season tickets . . .) because Showstopper is simply never the same show twice.
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