The London Underground. 1954. An illicit affair on the Piccadilly line which could cause a scandal in the Ministry. Pickpockets trying to climb up the social ladder. The threat of Russian spies. The music is inspired by the likes of Hamilton, Sweeney Todd, and Singin’ in the Rain. It’s called ‘Mind the Gap’.
It was a good musical, I saw it last night. Oh, you want to see it too? I’m afraid you can’t. It only exists for one performance.
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, if you’ll excuse the cliché, is unlike anything I have ever seen. Taking suggestions from the audience of setting, musical style, and show title, the 6-strong performers, band, and host create a new musical every night on the spot. Past treats, we are told, have included shows with names such as ‘Lost’, ‘Sinky Boots’, and ‘Alca-jazz’. I’ll leave it up to you to imagine what those shows entail.
It’s one thing to improvise a scene or short skit, or even a whole show, but to create an entire musical – complete with choreography and harmonies – from scratch is simply phenomenal. Why we bother hiring writers and directors when we could just hire this group to make new musicals is beyond me.
What’s the most impressive is that the songs themselves – played excellently by the band – don’t slip into parody. Whilst you would assume a Hamilton inspired number would simply involve a lot of rapping, the group instead opt for a number reminiscent of slow jam Say No to This. Each musical number is reminiscent of the musical style, rather than being a clear parody, and that’s what makes the show so clever and exciting to watch: you don’t know what direction the cast will take the show in. They really know their stuff.
The show is enjoyable for both musical theatre fanatics and those only mildly acquainted with the genre. Whilst there are plenty of in-jokes for the musical crowd, many of the musical pastiches will be familiar to those who only know the shows from pop culture.
As well as the incredible performers and band, a huge shout out has to, of course, go to the technical team who also have to improvise lighting and (I assume) microphone volumes each night whilst watching the show. I can’t imagine that’s an easy task.
Showstopper! is the show you’ll want to see again and again, if only to shout out your own ideas for a new musical. Ooh, what about a show set in a toilet roll factory with music in the style of Sondheim? I think I might be on to a winner…
Review by Daniella Harrison