Improvised. Musical. Two words that induce emotions from hesitant trepidation to profound excitement to downright horror. I certainly didn’t know what to expect when I received tickets to Showstopper: The Improvised Musical as a Christmas present, so naturally, I assumed my default position: that of a cautious optimist. Within ten minutes of the start of the performance, before the majority of the cast had even set foot on stage, I escalated my position from cautious optimist to just plain optimistic.
For those who are not yet dedicated followers of Improv and feel a bit lost, the performance began when a member of cast informs the audience that he needs to come up with a new musical sensation to be performed at the West End pronto!, and would the audience like to help? Of course we would! Collectively, we decided on the setting of the performance by shouting out time periods and locations and then cheering loudly for the ones that appealed the most. (It came down to a toss-up between the Boer war and the Vatican. The Vatican won). We then decided upon the styles of music we would like to see in the performance (Phantom of the Opera, High School Musical and Rent, to name a few). The remaining five members of cast then come on stage, and we watched in amazement as our musical (titled God Help Us!) came to life before our eyes.
The resulting performance was both hilarious and incredibly impressive. Somehow, our eighty minute love story featuring actors playing hedgehogs, a honeymoon in Wales, and a sordid love triangle involving the Pope himself, somehow succeeded in being a (more or less) coherent and satisfying story that I was fully invested in throughout the entire performance. If ever the performance was in danger of lagging, our director would step in and make a handy suggestion, or ask the audience what they wanted to see next: I think what this needs here is a musical number in the style of Hamilton! So, what’s remarkable about the room that the pope is in now? It’s filled with Hedgehogs?! You got it!
The skills of both the actors and musicians were remarkable. The songs flowed amazingly well; the cast clearly possessed an incredible command of musical theatre to be able to come up with lyrics, tunes and dance moves that were not only technically impressive, but that actually succeeded in advancing the absurd story that the audience had asked for. That they managed to do all this on the spot and in front of an audience seemed to me extraordinary. At times, I forgot that the musical was improvised at all. At others, I cried with laughter as the actors heroically cobbled together some kind of coherent narrative from the audiences’ bizarre suggestions. Showstopper was the perfect blend of a serious (but not too serious) musical, and live comedy.
By the end of the performance I had converted from an optimistic spectator to a dedicated follower of Improvised Musicals. I joined The Showstoppers mailing list, I liked them on Facebook, and I followed them on twitter. I’ve also got tickets to see them again in Ipswich. I suggest you do the same.
Showstopper: The Improvised Musical is currently touring the England.