‘What’s Your Story?’ – Showstopper: The Socially Distanced Improvised Musical Review

Normally it takes a very long time to put together a musical. Someone needs to write the story, and the songs, and the music, the list goes on and on and it all takes a long time to organise and create. But for the Showstoppers, a small group of talented performers and improvisors, it’s actually a very quick process. They have this uncanny ability to come up with songs and dialogue that seamlessly fit together and flow naturally at the drop of a hat, and it’s rather magical and wonderful to watch.

The theatre doors remain closed but even that isn’t enough to stop theatre from growing and evolving to these strange and at times heartbreaking new circumstances. Over the last few months we have been treated to great deal of archived show recordings and shows recorded in lockdown, but with Showstopper: The Socially Distanced Improvised Musical, this is the closest I’ve felt to seeing a live show in a long time. With the performers in one room together, albeit distanced and separated from each other in their own little perplex pods, it felt so good to see theatre created live again.

I was lucky enough to see the Showstoppers perform last summer in London, and I marvelled at how they were able to create a new show right before my eyes, somehow knowing exactly what each other was going to do and say. It’s all very clever, and makes me wonder if they are all somehow mind readers. In this isolation performance, they were taking suggestions from viewers through the comments on the YouTube page, and the talented cast were able to easily slot the new ideas into the developing story and quickly adapt to singing songs in the style of multiple different shows including Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen and Phantom of the Opera.

Ali James, Justin Brett, Ruth Bratt and Adam Meggido became Marigold, Desmond, Catherine and Frank in a magical story set in a bookshop, a story made up from suggestions from the audience watching at home. We were then treated to an hour long show, thought up as it moved along and was influenced by audience suggestions throughout. A dramatic incident here, a new song suggestion there. The story drew you in and you felt for the characters, even when the cast members didn’t know what was coming next for them. The action was pieced together by Andrew Pugsley, collecting the audience suggestions and letting the cast know what everyone wanted to see next. And anyone who has seen a Showstoppers show before will know just how funny it is to see Andrew mess with the cast, telling them to repeat complicated things or do it again but much faster.

The Showstoppers are just so clever, everything is slick and polished, even though it is as new to the cast as it is to the audience. They have this amazing ability to make everything work and flow, and this tight knit group of performers are clearly having fun with it. They make it look so easy to be that creative, that clever, and it’s a a true insight into the genius of theatre makers. I hope that the Showstoppers decide to do more of these socially distanced performances, showing off their incredible improv talents and bringing joy to so many at home, and I hope to see them live in a theatre again one day in the hopefully not too distant future.

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