It’s perhaps a sign of the times that an element of variety has crept into theatreland. Where the West End is usually dominated by plays and musicals, we’ve seen the likes of Vegas-style revues such as Sinatra, and magic shows like Impossible extend its entertainment remit and now we can add improv shows to the list and not only that, improvised musicals. Created by Adam Meggido and Dylan Emery, The Showstoppers have been making up musicals on the spot for eight years now. Regulars in Edinburgh and smaller venues like the King’s Head Theatre and the Charing Cross Theatre, they’ve now made the significant leap to the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Their routine is a ‘simple’ one – a brand new show at every performance (we were invited to the matinee and the evening show to prove just that) inspired by suggestions from the audience and embroidered into life by 6 performers (from a company of 12) who literally make it up there and then. The first of the day’s shows was Puck Off, a tale of love and wings in an Irish fairy grotto with a jive-talking Puck; the second was The Lyin’ King, set in the jungle that is the Daily Mail’s offices. But in some ways, the details don’t really matter as the show is remade every night from the variety of responses from the stalls and the unexpected swerves that come in their telling.
Similarly with the musical influences. Crowd-sourced suggestions included Wicked, Avenue Q, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Gilbert and Sullivan and there’s also moments where songs progress naturally out of the musical doodlings of the band – the superb and incredibly quick-to-respond MD Duncan Walsh Atkins with Craig Apps and Chris Ash. The constant invention is never less than very funny but it really comes into its own when the group manage to satirise musical theatre even whilst operating within its conventions – the utter randomness of Stomp and the overblown duetting of Les Miserables both brilliantly skewered here.
I think it is important too to recognise just how much is going on, on the stage, how talented these performers really are. For they’re not just improvising the words and the stories but the music and harmonies as well, spinning all the plates of deliciously daft narratives and still managing to squeeze in reprises of the funnier moments from earlier on.
The role of the narrator is crucial here, interjecting where necessary to keep things on track or milk key aspects for comic effect, Emery clearly having a ball, but multiple hats off to Justin Brett, Pippa Evans, Adam Meggido, Andrew Pugsley, Sarah-Louise Young and the downright hilarious Ruth Bratt (whatever you suggest, make sure she does an accent!) who make it look effortless. The West End is a richer place for having The Showstoppers in it.
Review by Ian Foster
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical
A brand new musical is created from scratch at every single performance of this multi award – winning show. Each night, audience suggestions are instantly transformed into an all-singing, all-dancing production with unpredictable and hilarious results! With seven years as an Edinburgh Fringe must – see phenomenon, four sell-out West End seasons and an acclaimed BBC Radio 4 series to their name, The Showstoppers have delighted audiences across the globe with their ingenious blend of comedy, musical theatre and spontaneity. Whether you fancy Sondheim on a ski lift, or Cole Porter in Poundland – you suggest it and The Showstoppers will sing it!
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Age Restrictions: Ages 12+
Show Opened: 24th September 2015
Booking Until: 29th November 2015
Important Info: Includes a 20 minute interval
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical
31 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 7ES
Thursday 1st October 2015