Showstopper!, currently playing in London as well as on tour, is an entirely improvised musical. Let me clarify: it really is entirely improvised, and it really is a proper musical. I didn't know that this concept could work, but it did – to an absolutely exceptional level. Showstopper is infinitely impressive, and extremely enjoyable. You don't want to be that person who didn't see this show.
The show that I saw was called Poke Me – as named by the audience, mature as we were. It was set in the Southern states of America, during a speed-dating session. Poke Me was the 622nd unique show performed by this company, and featured music in the style of some of the greats: The Phantom of the Opera; The Lion King; Les Miserables; Company – and some others that we added in as the show went along. Of course, if you go to see Showstopper, your show will be nothing like this.
One of the best things about Showstopper is the sense of fun on which it is be based. Allusions made to other musicals worked particularly well: my favourite part of Poke Me was when a song in the style of The Phantom of the Opera was performed; one cast member was even whisked onto stage on a trolley (which represented that iconic boat). Other allusions to the musical were so clever and well-embedded, that I laughed so much it hurt.
The cast picked up on the audience's ideas extremely well. I will go on to talk about the producer in a moment, who was really responsible for interacting with the audience. The rest of cast, however, also brought a lot of humour into the production by using the audience's ideas, even when they were not a significant part of the show. At one point, a gentleman shouted something out randomly; one of the members of cast on stage said to the other that their ventriloquy was getting better, and they made a scene out of it. Another audience member said at some point that 'anything' sounded lovely in French; perhaps 45 minutes later, a cast member made reference to this comment. This was another very strong point as far as style goes.
The songs themselves – and again, I must emphasise that the songs were made up entirely on the spot – were surprisingly good. Most of the humour came across in these songs – I have already mentioned the song in the style of The Phantom of the Opera. But not only were the songs funny – they also incorporated harmonies, overlapping melodies, an orchestra of three – you name it, it was there. Is that all? Of course not! There was also dance – co-ordinated dance, at that. It took an extremely talented cast and band to pull this off.
The musicians (Duncan Walsh Atkins; Chris Ash; Craig Apps) were exceptionally talented. It can't be easy, to improvise the playing of musical instruments – let alone having to fit in with two other musicians and a cast. And yet the three musicians achieved perfection. I was duly impressed.
The cast themselves were, like the musicians, fantastically talented. The six cast members featured in Poke Me were Justin Brett, Pippa Evans, Adam Meggido, Andrew Pugsley, Oliver Senton and Sarah-Louise Young. They were all equally good, having absolutely mastered the art of improvisation: they were quick, worked well together, playing off one another's strengths …and they all had quite good Southern American accents! Alongside this, the cast members had very good voices (very stagey voices, I might add) – it was not only enjoyable listening to them sing because it was funny, but also because it really did sound good.
The 'producer' for Poke Me was Dylan Emery. The concept of having a producer to manage the show worked perfectly. The role helped to bring structure to the show (and to control the audience). Emery also kept the pace up; when things fizzled a little, he would move the show along. Having the 'producer' role must be one of the key reasons for the polished performances seen every night (622 times) with the Showstopper company.
Of course the lighting for Showstopper is also entirely improvised – it is worth, I think, mentioning how impressive the stage looked, in light of this. The rest of the design – set, costume, props – was very clever (and very adaptable). It was also stylish, with a cool red theme running through the set and costumes. It looked simple, but it was clearly very well thought through.
When Showstopper! becomes one of the most renowned shows in London, be the person who saw it early on. You can catch it at the Apollo Theatre (London) or on tour – or both! After all, you do get to see a different show every time …
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