Making the move from its seven-year residency at the Lyric Theatre,
A cornucopia of creativity.
The opening night, as might have been expected, was a mind-blowing demonstration of the art form they have perfected and which seems to have a cult following. The lady in the seat next to me was seeing her ninth show, which is not the same as seeing the same show nine times, because every one is different and if you can shout loud enough, or just manage to attract the compères' attention, you can have a say in creating the production. Here’s how it works.
The band is on stage and The Writer (Dylan Emery) enters. The phone rings and a guy called Cameron (of course) says he’s in need of a new show. The Writer explains that by chance he has a creative team around him at this very moment and he promises to deliver in two hours. Now we move into action. He needs a setting for the show and invites suggestions. Some are humorously dismissed but a shortlist is drawn up. Tonight’s options are an Aeroplane, Basingstoke, the Central Line and the Chelsea Flower Show. Then, as each one is called out, we shout loudly in support of our choice. Aeroplane and Basingstoke (which received a lone shriek) are eliminated, leaving two. The final shout-off sees the Central Line win the vote by a narrow margin.
Next it’s time to decide the styles in which the show should be performed. A similar process sees four make it onto the board: Oklahoma, Cole Porter, Avenue Q and Tim Minchin. Now the show needs a name and from amongst the suggestion, overwhelmingly Scarlet Fever is the preferred title. The framework established, it's time to bring on the ensemble who, after a short bout of dialogue, establish that they are all here to catch the 7.42 which becomes the opening chorus number, as though this were a finely-rehearsed long-running show.
Thereafter, the dialogue hots up, people meet, events occur and songs such as Don’t Cross the Line, Lost and Found, and It’s Me, It’s Me take us into a love story and the plight of those who don’t find romance. With the mention of Rosie O’Donnell from somewhere in the audience, we go down the track of Hollywood celebrities with a fun-poking impersonation of her along with Michael Caine and Al Pacino et al. It’s fascinating to observe how a mere mention or interjection can divert the whole course of the story, reaching a junction that poses the question, “How did we get here?” If the whole thing seems to be going off the rails then The Writer is always there to interject, change drivers and even suggest a new departure. “This feels like a Sondheim moment.” Cue another song and another style. During the interval many in the audience have taken up the invitation to Tweet further suggestions to The Writer and before we know it we are immersed in a frantic scene involving Tinder and listening to This is My Favourite Carriage and Love on the Central Line in an arousing finale.
The show poses challenges all round, and with a band and singers on stage it’s hard to work out who’s following who. The fact is, the team have been working together for so long and have developed such synchronicity that it’s not a question that arises. With their vast musical talents and performing skills they just know where things are going and create, quite literally, in harmony. Behind the scenes, hours of rehearsals and training ensure that very little can go wrong, and who would know anyway? (See my article below for an insight). The company has enough members to ring the changes on who will perform on the night. The same lady next to me pointed out two of her favourites; she’ll be there again to catch the others at her tenth visit!
With 1,200 shows performed since its inception in 2008, Showstopper! The Improvised Musical has become awash with accolades, not least that of being the first ever long-form improv show to have a full West End run and to be nominated for and win an Olivier Award. Each unique performance validates the acclaim these hugely talented performers receive and explains why people go back time and again to see them. Why not join the club? You might see your own show performed in the West End and you'll certainly enjoy a cornucopia of creativity.
It's called improvised because it really is!