Blogger Laura Peatman Reviews Showstopper The Musical
The first long-form improv show to enjoy a run in the West End, Showstopper! The Improvised Musical has come a long way – geographically and commercially – since I first saw the show in 2013 at the Edinburgh Fringe. Yet, impressively, The Showstoppers have retained the same sense of raucous fun and the same technical skill as they invent a full 90-minute show in front of our eyes.
The fourth wall is not only broken here but never really exists, as the audience are called upon to provide suggestions of location, theme and musical styles (giving them the chance to show off their own witty repartee or terrible puns; show number 674 that I watched was named I’ve Just Been Dumped, following some romantic entanglements in a portaloo factory…). With occasional interjections from the ‘director’ (Adam Meggido, on this occasion) to guide the proceedings, everything from then on is created spontaneously by the cast and three-man band.
With the show being different every single night, it perhaps seems contradictory to write a critical review of this performance: the farcical plot (a love triangle with an injection of hedgehog rebellion) and catchy tunes won’t ever be repeated. The themes and settings of the night are utterly unpredictable, and based on recent shows can take the audience anywhere from an oil rig to 1980s Detroit, from a WWII training camp for pigeons to the end of the rainbow. Yet the skills of these performers are undeniable, and this cast manage to produce technical brilliance and campy chaos all at the same time.
The way in which this troupe of performers is able to work with harmonies and rhymes while improvising is nothing short of amazing. While the repetitive nature of song is of course an aide, the lyrical ingenuity and comic brilliance that are achieved reap a bucket-load of respect from the appreciative audience. It’s tricky to pick out individual talent in what is very much an ensemble piece, but every time Ruth Bratt and Pippa Evans were on stage, I was on tenterhooks to see which weird and wonderful direction they would take next. Justin Brett also impresses, particularly winning our hearts with a gloriously funny ballad in the style of ‘Memory’. The band of Duncan Walsh Atkins, Chris Ash and Craig Apps also deserve special mention for their virtuosity and ability to work so tightly with the improvisers.
The better you know your musical theatre, the more enjoyment you will get out of this show, as the cast throw in wonderful references to the shows and composers selected by the audience. Highlights from this particular show include some Cats¬-esque back-up dancers, a number comprising a hedgehog uprising in the style of The Lion King, and an In The Heights pastiche that exhibited the cast’s rapping skills to great effect.
With basic costumes and props, Showstopper! is forced to be inventive and isn’t always exactly what you’d call slick. Yet the slip-ups are equally as funny as the successes, mainly because the cast look like they are having the time of their lives. They embrace each other’s curveballs and mad plot twists, but also their mistakes: from calling a character by the wrong name, to accidentally recreating Oliver!’s ‘I’d Do Anything’ when supposedly inventing a song…
At a time when a bit of joyous comedy is what the world needs, Showstopper! provides the perfect blend of tremendous skill and a whole heap of silliness. With the show proving so popular with return visitors that they’ve launched a loyalty card scheme, Showstopper! is a welcome shot of hilarity in the West End.