What can a reviewer say about a musical that’s different every night? By extension, what can a reviewer say about any show, since surely no two performances are the same? If you’ll indulge me for 300ish words, I’ll tell you about tonight’s performance and my opinion of it. You won’t be able to see what I saw, unless your audience-mates happen to demand a Bollywood musical set in North Korea with music by Jason Robert Brown, like mine did. But in this instance it’s no gamble – Showstopper! may have a lucky-dip of musical styles, but the cast’s showmanship can carry them through any audience-member’s twisted plot suggestions.
Tonight’s offering: ‘East Side Story’, a tale of love separated by the 38th parallel. Would North Korean Kim, the proprietor of an unlikely Pyongyang jukebox bar, and his South Korean wife Lorelei evade the gender-confused shoe-fetishist General and live together happily? Of course they would – and along the way they proved to Kim Jong-un that love defies all boundaries, including the Korean Demilitarized Zone. In a world where North Koreans are rock’n’roll entrepreneurs and South Koreans are starving farmers and dictators, the two countries were united by Capitalism, exchanging bowler hats and reflective shoes, and we were sent off with a final American rock number.
Dylan Emery acted as leader of this drama game, appearing as the ‘writer’ of an off-the-cuff musical. Skilfully intervening when the action got too silly and even accompanying the hauntingly beautiful river sequence on the guitar, Emery marshalled the troupe with dry humour and some rollicking good ideas for scenes. It may have been a surprise when a small but passionate group of Musical Theatre devotees demanded Jason Robert Brown as a stylistic influence, but Ruth Bratt as Lorelei along with pianist Chris Ash gave us an astute parody of Brown’s soft rock here’s-my-backstory ballads. All six of us ardent JRB fans laughed lots.
It may not seem it but this is a glowing review, and a hearty recommendation. The cast were hilarious and classy, managing to avoid the cliché of songs being funny because they’re rubbish. Their musicality was great, and even their dance-moves were slick. They leave you wondering how the hell they do it – which is surely the hallmark of something special. Do you buy a ticket for something you can’t predict? I say risk it.