Anyone who’s tried improvisation knows how difficult it is to create a story and keep it going for more than a few minutes. To create a two hour show, with music, on the spot from suggestions from the audience is nothing short of miraculous.
Showstoppers have been around on the fringe for years and have finally been given a limited-time West End spot at the Apollo Shaftesbury Avenue. The cast comprises a team of fifteen actors, out of whom six take it in turns (I presume) to perform each night, and six musicians, three per performance. Plus of course the Master of Ceremonies and creator of the show, Dylan Emery, who ‘curates’ the random ideas thrown at him from the audience at the beginning of the show (I’m sorry he ignored the suggestion last night to set the show in a uterus), and sporadically throughout the evening freezes the action to throw in a suggestion of his own, as in: ‘Now they will perform a song about how they got to set up the speed dating event in the style of ’Master of the House’ from Les Mis.’
Last night’s topic was speed dating, set in the Deep South, to the style of various musicals such as Les Mis, Phantom, Company, Lion King and Spinal Tap (not a very inspiring bunch). The story that unfolded involved two old friends, called as I remember Charlene and Joe, having had no luck with the 30-second speed dating thing deciding to get married; a marriage that five years later (after the interval, during which the MC invited the audience to suggest how the story might continue) is on the rocks, partly due to the presence of Joe’s true love, his horse Nessie. Along the way we had a nice pastiche of the song Company, a parodic sequence based on Phantom, the above-mentioned song from Les Mis, a reference to Lion King and a rock number loosely based on Spinal Tap.
Clever? Blimey, the coordination is amazing. Songs, rhyming, sung in harmony, not quite so good you thought they’d worked on it before, but performed by actors and musicians with perfect synchronisation by real (if miked) singers.
I don’t suppose last night’s show was vintage. When you stop thinking how clever these people are, how well and unselfishly they work together, the show itself isn’t really, as it were, showstopping. Despite pleas for something dramatic to set off the second act it ran rather short of ideas and the songs, as Pippa Evans described her marriage, went on and on and on and on … For me the best parts were the parodies, and I wondered whether it might not have worked better had they based the show on one musical rather than half a dozen.
Still, it’s not like anything I or probably most of the packed (and young) audience have ever seen before. Each night is totally different, nice work for the ushers. I’m sure they get a lot of returnees, and deservedly.
Showstoppers runs at the Apollo Shaftesbury Avenue till 19 November.