If you’re a performer, no matter what technique you follow – be it Stanislavski, Meisner, Adler or Strasberg – we can all agree that the foundation of it all comes down to one thing, Improvisation. Now I’ve seen many improvisation groups, from Edinburgh Fringe Festival to the famous troupe of Whose Line is it Anyway?, but never in my life have I thought of performers daring to do what UK based group Showstoppers! have put together…an Improvised Musical.
Writing a Musical can be a monumental task, just ask Lin Manuel Miranda, writer of the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton, which took over six years to make. Or Steven Sondheim, whose lyrics definitely do not just come out of thin air and are some of the hardest to get your tongue around. Even musical writing hopefuls, like Leigh Scott (Famous Actor), take over two years to write parodies of famous films such as, let’s say, Jurassic Park. So how do Showstoppers! manage to create a fully formed Musical in the space of an hour?
Beginning in August 2007 performers Dylan Emery, Adam Meggido and Ken Cambell ran a week-long experimental workshop at the Actors’ Centre in London entitled ‘How to Improvise a Musical’ which culminated in a presentation at the Tristan Bates Theatre. Jump to 2009, Showstopper! wins a Spirit of the Fringe Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and is nominated for three MTM Awards, which results int he show beginning a UK tour. After making international appearances, Showstopper! transfers to the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, London.
The premise of Showstopper! is a relatively simple one, a new audience comes in, takes their seats and are greeted by the MC of the night. The MC then asks the different sections of the audience for suggestions of a place of work, a country and lastly, a name for the show. Now you may think that they have plants in the audience but the deal is sealed by audience voting by cheering for the best options.
Next the MC takes down different song styles, for example Hip-Hop, Sondheim, Opera etc. and these are put down on a blackboard for future reference.
The Showstopper! performance I saw was a love story set in a Lego Factory in Sweden entitled Brick It.
From here the show begins, the actors enter at the time they see fit and improvise, never stopping. That is until the MC finds a fitting time to pause the scene and tell the performers as well as the audience the style of song they are going to sing in. This is where the show makes your jaw drop. The performers begin singing (harmonies and all) a show tune with such confidence that you will think it to be rehearsed, they even manage to slip in some on-the-spot choreography! To their credit, this is done so well that at the interval I could even hear audience members leaving the auditorium singing the last song in the show; it doesn’t even exist!
However, as it goes with all improvisation, it is never really 100% slick, but that’s the beauty of it after all. There will always be actors who commit more than others and offer more to the scene. Just like there will be some performers who aren’t as strong and may not mesh well with the group on some nights, whether it comes down to an off night or struggling with coming up with ideas for the piece. This is what live theatre is all about isn’t it?
While some pieces may not have been pulled off as well as others were, we can’t expect to see a show that is on the standard of let’s say The Book of Mormon. This is an Improvised Musical and those who turn up their noses need to remember the feat that they are witnessing.
Showstopper! manages to turn one skit of an ordinary Improvisation show into a fully fledged, uniquely tailored and also hilarious night of on-the-spot entertainment. My hat goes off to them!
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical is back at the Apollo Theatre in London for three special shows only, 10th October, 14th November and 12th December. Beg, buy or steal your tickets, it’s guaranteed to be unique.
Rating: I can’t really give this a rating since each show is differently tailored to the audience. However I give the concept Two Thumbs Up!
Some audience member decided to give the music genre ‘Kanye West’….they were not welcomed back by me.
Tickets for Showstoppers! next two shows can be found on the link below, as well as the Showstoppers! main page if you’re after any more information.