The Mancunion

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Review: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

Anuli Changa finds joy in the spontaneity of a show that changes every night


The ‘Showstoppers’ are Olivier award-winning ten-year Fringe veterans, who, for a one-night engagement at the Palace Theatre, presented ‘Piste-Off’ — a Winter Olympics musical.

It was a perfect family show. The entire audience was involved from the start. It began with a call from the ‘producer’ expecting a brand new musical, with the suspiciously convenient deadline of 9:30 that same evening. It was quite the experience sitting in the traditional Palace Theatre with the house lights up amidst raucous laughter, as the audience called out where tonight’s musical should be set and which of their favourite musicals were to be referenced.

Having seen other ‘improvised musical’ companies at Edinburgh Fringe, I’ve seen how each troupe has a unique selling point that grounds the comedy and entertainment. For the ‘Showstoppers’, it is the extensive list of beloved musicals they pay homage to throughout the show. Showstopper! is an absolute must for musical lovers. The astounding range in the musicals that the songs are plucked from leaves the audience wondering if the whole cast has studied every possible musical that one could imagine, just on the off chance they’ll crop up.

Whether we were laughing uncontrollably at an Avenue Q tune — complete with puppets and inappropriate humour — or catching the colour-themed jokes in a song about medals, performed in the style of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, the show was constantly entertaining. The Hamilton homage was a standout, with the cast freestyle rapping on the spot — one cast member making hilarious ‘rise up’ innuendos.

Some strong vocals were displayed in the impromptu harmonies, particularly from cast member Ali James. Lucy Trodd was also a highlight, with her wonderful comedic timing.

That’s not to say it was perfect. The songs that didn’t reference actual musicals were somewhat underwhelming, and there were a few moments of dodgy vocals. Considerable leeway should be shown, however. After all, they effectively created a musical completely from scratch!

It has to be said that some of the best plot lines came from the audience. It was certainly a successful writing partnership between us and the ‘Showstoppers’ as the tension built — who will Olga choose? Marie Claire or Jimmy? Will anybody win?! Wondering what I’m on about? Well, I’m afraid you had to be there!

The performers consistently impressed throughout, not only in their imitations of varied musicals but also in the display of sensitivity to the vibe of the room. They seemed to judge the mood perfectly and were masterfully in sync with the audience at all times.

This show absolutely succeeds in bringing the comedic ‘wow-factor’ — even despite the odd moment of wobbly vocals. Although Piste-Off will never be seen again, that’s the appeal!  Every night a new musical that only those in the audience will ever know. Improvisation can be a risky business, but this show was most certainly a hit!