SHOWSTOPPER! The (Socially Distanced!) Improvised Musical
This was an invitation to review that I simply could not resist. Having enjoyed this group in performance two years ago and had a thoroughly good time with chortles galore, I was interested to experience how this might play out in a virtual theatre. Using state-of-the-art technology and rigorous social distancing, the company planned to receive live suggestions from the audience, watching at home, via the chat box to create a full-length brand new musical. They would perform behind clear screens and only the band would wear masks as they would be more open. 

The entire premise behind this Olivier award winning Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, brainchild of Adam Meggido (performing tonight) and Dylan Emery is that the cast creates new (and never to be repeated) productions each performance, entirely improvised from audience suggestions which supply the setting, title and musical styles which shape the performance content. As such the audience is integral to the success of the show and I hoped that the remote audience would be up for it. And they certainly were. Whilst we waited for the start of the show comments came thick and furious on the chat section reflecting the anticipation, expectation and support from the gathering. To our delight Andrew Pugsley, in his role of Performance Director, joined in the chat and further established a close bond with the audience.

'Where will tonight's story be set' and 'You're in charge' flashed across our screens in large white letters. And the chat increased with endless suggestions of setting, theme and ideas ranging from The Muppets to Hamilton, with a soupcon of Sondheim and zany content suggestions, including Who Battered Mrs Batty! Delicious fun. What would be chosen? After a short deliberation by the cast and consideration of the numerous suggestions, it was settled. There would be a hot air balloon floating over New York in which two socially distanced couples (ha ha) would go back in time and maybe change the course of their lives and of the political history of the USA, making great use of a taxi and a job at Macy's.

From get go the confidence and talent of the cast and band did not waver. Harmonies, understanding, interaction and teamwork held strong with melodies and lyrics that would challenge even the most well known of composers. Each number held merit in its own right with one of my favourites coming at the close of Act 1 in the style of Hamilton. Look out Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

The Band, comprising Alex Atty (percussion) and Duncan Walsh Atkins (keyboard) created a faultless mix of music and tempo with alacrity and understanding, offering cues to the performers who worked together in tandem. Well done to tonight's performers: Pippa Evans, Adam Megiddo, Ruth Bratt and Justin Brett whose voices soared and whose role play raised many a laugh. And further congratulations to Andrew Pugsley who engaged the 400 strong audience. With few props including some outlandish hatwear, this was a visual treat.

Much work had to be done to ensure the safety of the performers and band. During the interval we were given a virtual tour of Behind the Scenes and the work done by the crew, headed by Damien Robertson. The cast were interviewed and it was clear that they embraced these new changes in such bizarre times as exciting and stimulating which certainly played out during the performance.

The advertised running time for the show was 1 hour and 20 minutes but in fact ran over and was two hours, including the 10 minute interval. A tad too long in my opinion but I was in the minority. From the tone of the chats, the enthusiasm of the audience held high and at the close they clamoured for more.

A theatre atmosphere is created through the interaction of audience members with the cast where they are close up and personal and where it feels like a meeting of old chums out for the evening. Despite our distance, this managed to achieve an intimate feel. From the chats of the live audience beforehand and during, this too was a meeting of friends, old and new, whose 'woohoos' and virtual claps signalled their support and enjoyment. It couldn't work, it shouldn't work but by golly, it did. We may be separated by distance at this strange time in our history, we definitely miss the physicality of the theatre but in this socially distanced concept, Meggido and Emery have achieved a fun-filled evening through their wizardry and the skills and talents of cast, band and crew and have reignited the flame of performance. Are we in control? We may think we are, but think again.

Congratulations to the team for adapting to these weird times and for providing such a great evening to its audience with their delightful musical, improvised of course, called 'The Balloon Where It Happened' - oops, sorry Lin-Manuel Miranda (again).

A nod to one of the many hysterical lines: 'I'll sell so many gloves, you won't believe how many people have hands!' Hey it is improvised.

Showstoppers have offered a variety of online experiences on their website, completing 24 hour song challenges for the likes of Elaine Paige, Ramin Karimloo, Derren Brown and Jenna Russell, featuring a subject matter and a musical style of each celebrity's choosing. Other productions have included three full episodes of The Showstoppers' Online Storytime for Kids and a live-streamed Alternative Eurovision Song Contest. Suggestions were passed via social media and tech wizard, Ali James, collected the ideas and shared them with the cast. The Alternative Eurovision Song Contest was staged as a tribute to this year's cancelled Eurovision song Contest and featured original songs by both the Showstopper cast and special guests, raising over £7000 for The Care Workers' Charity.
  
First appearing at the Edinburgh Festival (Fringe) in 2008, playing to an audience of under 100 in a morning slot housed in a portakabin, they have since enjoyed 11 years of fun, frolics and huge success with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, West End runs, an Olivier Award and a BBC 4 series. 

Photograph:
Hugo Glendinning



Listings



This production is available to watch until Sunday 30 August 2020.
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Tickets are £9.50, Concessions: £6.50 plus booking fees

To book, visit Eventbrite at
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/showstopper-the-socially-distanced-improvised-musical-tickets-116417683425

Every ticket sold helps to keep these talented artists working and the company to stay afloat during these trying times.

To catch more about the show, visit  
https://youtu.be/xiHphre8474


 



Do check out their website: https://showstopperthemusical.com/ where you can check out a variety of snippets and two further productions.


Twitter: @TheShowstoppers

Facebook: theshowstoppers

Instagram: @showstoppermusical