Showstopper! The Improvised Musical
Reviewed – 7th December 2020
“showcases impeccable talent, commitment and a glorious sense of humour”
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical uses audience suggestion to create a new musical every single night. This makes for a difficult review, as despite last night’s ‘A Change of Direction’, a piece about ‘out of work’ actors finding performances in their day to day lives, being brilliant, it will never be seen again. That being said, it is clear that there is an envious amount of talent on stage; from the musicians, who improvise each song and manage to keep in tempo and melody with the actors, to the actors themselves, who pull off such an impressive range, they truly blow you away.
Entering the theatre after the UK’s second lockdown would have been a treat enough, but Oscar Thompson (sound designer) collated an uplifting array of musical theatre anthems and the audience, despite being socially distanced, is immediately uplifted and ready to have some fun. On the front of the stage there is a large, branded banner, asking audience members to text in ideas for what the musical could be about tonight, as well as favourite musicals that they’d like the cast to style their improvisation to. With a ring of a red phone that lights up centre stage, it’s clear we’re ready to begin.
From the outset of the show, when an unnamed person (performed by Dylan Emery) answers the phone to a mysterious producer, the humour in the show is set alight. Emery announces that he is delighted to be finally asked to put on a musical after such a long period of ‘theatre drought’ and comically says that he will have it ready in 75 minutes without a problem. Emery’s intelligent and relevant humour works beautifully as he effortlessly engages with the audience throughout the show. He begins reading out the audience’s suggestions; what they have texted into him for musical ideas and themes. When the audience has decided (through cheering for their favourite title) the improvisation begins.
A standout performance was given by Justin Brett, whose charm and charisma was effervescent. However, an astounding level of skill was displayed by each person on the stage. The actors and musicians transition with ease between operatic numbers in the style of Phantom of The Opera, to making up rap on the spot so that they might imitate Hamilton. This show is particularly brilliant if you’re musical theatre knowledge is expert; if you know the stylings of Sondheim, to the opposite on the spectrum SIX, each impression is faultless. I worry that this might have been lost on first time musical theatre goers, but the cast and band’s ability would be impressive still. A highlight in the show occurred when the actors didn’t in fact get everything perfect; their panicked stares as it became clear they were running out of things to say was embraced by the other cast members and was celebrated with hilarity.
At various moments throughout the show, Emery will suddenly stand, freezing the cast and announcing a development he’d like to enforce (usually taken from the most outrageous message he’d received in from the audience) to ensure that the cast are keeping to a story arc and structure. This works perfectly should the cast begin to go off subject or reach a dead end in their improvisation. The only criticism I would have is that the cast on occasion don’t fully listen to Emery’s direction and so there is a tendency to labour the point a little, but perhaps they were buying themselves time to think in response to one of Emery’s daring requests!
All in all, this musical showcases impeccable talent, commitment and a glorious sense of humour. It was clear that no one on the stage was taking themselves too seriously, which is hugely welcome by a world starved of live entertainment.
Reviewed by Mimi Monteith
Photography by Geraint Lewis
Showstoppers! The Improvised Musical
Garrick Theatre – various dates until March 2021
Previously reviewed at this venue: