Tag Archives: Ruth Bratt

Showstoppers

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

★★★★

Garrick Theatre

Showstoppers

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

Garrick Theatre

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:
Brainiac Live! | ★★★★ | August 2019
Rip It Up – The 60s | ★★★ | February 2019
Bitter Wheat | ★★★★ | June 2019
Noises Off | ★★★★ | October 2019
Potted Panto | ★★★ | December 2020

 

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Off The Top With Jason Kravits

★★★★★

Crazy Coqs Live At Zédel

Off The Top With Jason Kravits

Off The Top With Jason Kravits

Crazy Coqs Live At Zédel

Reviewed – 13th January 2020

★★★★★

 

“He fills the intimate space of the Crazy Coqs with a low key, but dynamic energy”

 

Jason Kravits is a successful American character actor who obviously enjoys giving himself a bit of a challenge, because his cabaret show Off The Top is ninety minutes of improvisation taken from audience suggestions written down on slips of paper. Does this performing without the safety net of a full script work? Heck, yes.

Off The Top really begins while we’re settling into our chairs in the elegant, Art Deco inspired decor of the The Crazy Coqs cabaret space downstairs at the Brasserie Zédel in Piccadilly Circus. On the table in front of us are slips of paper and pencils. We are invited to drop these slips of paper into a fish bowl handed round by the master of ceremonies, on which we have written responses to “A Place,” “A Thing,” “A Short Phrase,” “Words to Live By” and “The Last Text Message You Sent or Received.” Then Kravits appears, creates a character made up on the spot consisting of an audience member’s middle name plus a place name, and jumps on stage.

Since his show every night is different, I won’t hesitate to give spoilers by saying that on this particular night, we were treated to the life story of the not-so-famous Matthew Discovery from Tulsa, Oklahoma (there were quite a few Americans and Canadians in the audience). Discovery himself is nattily dressed in a plaid suit with lilac shirt and purple tie, and while he draws slips out of the fish bowl to describe the circumstances of his early life in Tulsa’s “wet sock” factory surrounded by pussycats and lifeboats, we find out that this wannabe performer of the cabaret scene can really sing. With the backing of a nicely mellow three piece band (MD/pianist John Thorn, bass Jonny Gee and drums Sophie Alloway) Discovery might treat us at any moment to a Sinatra like riff on “health, beauty and love” or a song about Grimsby that includes fish and donkeys. A version of an “unknown” song by Sondheim is instantly recognisable. But the barnstormer is the duet sung with guest star Ruth Bratt as the couple fondly recall their attempts to connect given that she’s a bigamist attempting to become a “trigamist”. (What on earth was written on that slip of paper?) In short, Kravits’ show, based on the rough sketch of a performer following his dream, is a hilarious world tour that visits Tulsa and the Taj Mahal, with brief detours to Venice; Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, and yes, Grimsby. The climax of the story takes place in Croydon, naturally, during a street performance that almost gets the hapless Discovery arrested, while creating a major diplomatic incident with Canada. By this point the audience is breathless with laughter.

Kravits makes all this acting by the seat of his pants look effortless. He fills the intimate space of the Crazy Coqs with a low key, but dynamic energy. Sometimes he’ll slip the audience the side eye when presented with a particularly outrageous word or phrase from the bits of paper, but then he kind of mentally shrugs and launches into a vocal rendition liberally sprinkled with F words and S words anyway. He’s had us all in the palms of his expressive hands from the start. When we leave, ninety minutes later, his brilliant, made up on the spot songs are still on our lips, and our stomach muscles still aching from non-stop laughter.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Danny Kaan

 


Off The Top With Jason Kravits

Crazy Coqs Live At Zédel until 19th January

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Dad’s Army Radio Hour | ★★★½ | January 2018
Liza Pulman Sings Streisand | ★★★★ | March 2018
The Clementine Show | ★★★★ | July 2018
I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical | ★★★★★ | August 2018
Welcome to the Big Top | ★★★★ | October 2018
Well-Strung | ★★★ | October 2018
Sinatra: Raw | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Randy Roberts Live! | ★★★★ | June 2019

 

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