Showstopper! The Improvised Musical Review

Apollo Theatre 24th September  – booking until 29th November.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

What a show!

Using the conceit that we are helping to pitch a new musical to Cameron, the press night audience of course chose the offices of the Daily Mail as the setting for “The Lyin’ King”. A variety of musicals are selected as song style inspirations and the cast are let loose.

Apparently there are a few conspiracy theories about how a new musical can be created in each performance, but the truth is quite simple – this group of performers know more about musicals than is entirely healthy.

Consisting of experienced comedy improvisers, the cast work together seamlessly. Dylan Emery ran the show with panache. He interacts brilliantly with the audience and stops the onstage action with a gleam in his eye to suggest styles – then sits back and laughs with the rest of us. The cast’s faces when he announced that they would sing the company song… in unison, were a picture – but they pulled it off with aplomb. Deciding that each character should use the  style of a different playwright created a wonderful scene that went nowhere – what else do you expect if you mix Pinter, Brecht and Beckett?

The cast is overflowing with seriously intelligent talent. Feeding off each other’s ideas with lighting fast reactions (and sometimes throwing in a curveball to test their corpsing thresholds) they are a proper team, full of energy and a love of the genre that infects the entire audience.

Whoops and cheers abound when discarded audience suggestions are used as oneliners, and each musical number has practically an extra percussion section of claps and admiring cheers.

The two shows I saw- “The Lyin’ King” and “Making Sparks” (set in M&S in 1884) were completely different. Even though both audiences had chosen a couple of identical musical inspirations, different tempo numbers were used to suit each performance’s narrative.

The things the shows had in common were the fabulous standard of the performers, and the gloriously bonkers feeling of the night. Where else in the West End could you see 2 men having a West Side Story dance duel in the Cereal Killer café? Snap, crackle and pop has never sounded better. Shakespearean rap shares the stage with Mama Mia, Sondheim, Gilbert and Sullivan, Rent and AC/DC. Anything goes! The musicians play as if they have a score in front of them. They switch styles effortlessly and sometimes even manage to keep a straight face.

The audience is invited to tweet their ideas for the second act during the interval – which led memorably to the invention of Percy Pig in the M&S musical. This produced comedy gold when Gladstone discovered them on his pillow – prime ministers and pigs!

I have never seen an audience so invested in a show. We were collectively wondering where the plot was going, marvelling at the quickness of the cast’s minds and willing them to take the lunacy to the next level. Because this was OUR musical and OUR night to revel in an unique and uplifting atmosphere. We deserved the standing ovation.

Showstopper! is the theatrical equivalent of Pharrel’s “Happy” – perfectly designed to get you grinning and clapping like an overexcited sea lion – and you’ll want to go back for more.