I'll start by admitting I wasn't expecting much when I walked into the Apollo Theatre to see Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. No matter how excitedly my companion for the night was talking about how talented the cast was, I couldn't see it being anything more than a mediocre, kind-of cringey 'show' at best. 90 minutes later I was taking back everything I said previously – well I would be, if I wasn't literally speechless for a good ten minutes after curtain.
The premise? Basically what it says on the tin. A fully improvised show, complete with original characters, songs, dance and plot. The audience get to pick the setting, 5 already existing musicals to take inspiration from, and finally the title. Ours was 'Poke Me' - a musical about speed dating, set in the American South. Weird enough yet? Not quite. Musical styles chosen ranged from Les Miserables, to Spinal Tap. From an outside perspective, this sounds like a horrific nightmare, a show doomed right from the start. But then you meet the Showstoppers themselves.
The talent of these people is phenomenal. They can turn a complete jumble of ideas into a fully functional, coherent musical, right in front of your eyes. I frequently had to remind myself that yes, this is fully improvised, and they are making it all up, from scratch, as I was watching it. Incredible. I started to think they actually had a psychic connection – the words they were singing, the choreography they were creating – it was all perfectly in sync. Even writing this I'm still wondering how they managed it – and I saw it two full days ago.
Even though most of the excitement is caused from the incredible talent on display, I found there was also a childish delight that was brought by the show being so interactive. The prospect of being able to shout out suggestions occasionally was a fun one, and I felt like my 19 year old self was living my 7 year old selves dreams. The use of Twitter was also incredibly original as at the end of Act 1, the audience were asked to tweet what they thought should happen at the start of Act 2 (Having my name and suggestion read out on a West End stage was a personal highlight!). The level of audience participation is completely new compared to any other show out there.
Part of me wishes that it wasn't improvised (only a little part, mind you). As a fan of going to see the same show over and over again, it's disappointing that I will never witness 'Poke Me' ever again. On the other hand, the saying 'no two shows are the same' is taken to a different level with the Showstoppers. You can return over and over and have a completely different experience. Creating this different, high quality, full length musical every night is no easy task – yet these guys manage it so flawlessly again and again. I know I'm definitely booking more tickets for this wild ride again as soon as possible!
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