4th October 2016

Review: Showstoppers! The Improvised Musical

Showstoppers! create an entire musical production before your very eyes; a show that is improvised based entirely on audiences’ suggestions
Review: Showstoppers! The Improvised Musical
Photo: The Lowry

The show begins with the ringing of the red phone. The fictional and imaginary producer Cameron is demanding the need for a new musical. The Master of Ceremony (M.C.) addresses the audience as the ‘writers group’ charged with the responsibility of achieving this aim within the designated two hours.

The house lights up and the suggestions flood in from the crowd; this show certainly breaks the fourth wall, but seamlessly closing it again once the actors arrive on stage.  It is the audience’s job to choose the setting and title of the musical. We settled on The Mortuary and the aptly named ‘I Sing Dead People’.  The first half of the show begins—all that is required is one M.C., two musicians, and six actors.

The musical numbers are inspired by various styles, genres, and composers all dictated by the audience. Dance numbers inspired by Fosse, impersonations of Lin-Manuel’s iconic rapping style and they even tackled Sondheim. They created memorable songs including ‘You Smell Nice’, ‘Be Alive’ and ‘Your Dreams in Your Spleen’. References to the spleen became a running joke throughout the show.

It was these details and the drawing from previous scenes that made the performance fluid and a joy to watch. The comic timing was perfect and left the audience unashamed to laugh out loud. Needless to say, the show was hilarious from start to finish, despite (or perhaps because of) the morbid setting of a successful mortuary in The Great War.

You quickly forget that the audience had only set certain boundaries mere minutes ago as the actors and musicians perform with ease and confidence, which suggests they really have been rehearsing this very musical for years. This isn’t surprising, although the company can’t prepare for any specific show, as who knows what wacky and bonkers ideas the audience will call out on the night.

The company rehearses to hone their improvisation skills, which results in a performance that puts the audience at ease and ready to laugh at the hilarity that unfolds before them.  The slickness of the performance is almost scary, as actors exit and enter in almost perfect unison. Similarly, there seems to be a sixth-sense among the cast on who’s turn it is to sing the next improvised line.

It is easy to imagine that improvisation is simple, due to the incredible performance by the cast, but you only need to try it out yourself to realise how gifted the cast really are. The expertise of their craft is the reason why the company has been so successful, having been running since 2008.

The second half is dictated by the audiences’ tweets during the interval. It isn’t just the audience who helps direct the show, but the M.C. isn’t shy to get involved too. The M.C. stops the action to change the direction of the show, call for a musical number or remind the actors of an audience member’s idea. These interruptions kept the show alive and the actors on their feet, as they had to be open to all offers.

The minimal staging and four movable red doorways allow the actors to have plenty of space to experiment on –and experiment they certainly do. Showstoppers! perform something you have never seen before and will never see again. A truly unique experience.

Showstoppers! The Improvised Musical is unconventional, hilarious and one not to be missed. You really can’t believe that before the show started the unique plot never existed—utterly mind-blowing. Showstoppers! are currently touring so make sure you catch a show if you get a chance, check their website for details.

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