Thursday, February 22

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical – Garrick Theatre

As the theatres gradually re-open, audiences are like kids in a toy shop, wide-eyed, rushing around not sure what to see first. Well it’s a no-brainer. Book tickets for Showstopper!

It sounds absolutely crazy – a musical improvised on the fly with suggestions of setting, musical styles and show title provided by the audience – but it has been running to incredible and well-deserved success since 2008. After a long stint at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the show had two West End runs and a series on BBC Radio 4. And along the way they picked up an Olivier award.  It’s funny, clever, interactive and unique, each night becoming a completely different show full of references to styles the audience can recognise. A bit of Shakespeare here, a Hamilton-esque sequence there, an homage to 40s musicals, a Lion King reference, it’s infinitely flexible and laugh-out-loud funny.  The premise is simple. A writer has a deadline from his producer to create a new musical in 75 minutes, so he engages the audience’s help as a focus group. With ideas texted or tweeted (rather than shouted out as in the pre-pandemic era), the cast and band then act, sing, dance and play out that new musical with plot-twists thrown in from audience suggestions as the story unfolds. The cast make improv look a doddle, taking on hilariously crazy characters, dance routines, outrageous storylines and note-perfect songs without a misstep. 

For each performance, the four-person cast is drawn from the wider Showstoppers’ company. On the review night, this team was Adam Meggido, Pippa Evans, Justin Brett and Lucy Trodd, all clearly relishing the ideas thrown out by the audience. Some of it is very silly, but a wonderful kind of silly that is just what is needed right now. Justin Brett hams it up to the max as the decrepit butler (think Freddie Frinton in Dinner For One crossed with Acorn Antiques’ Mrs Overall but more, much, much, more) almost stealing the show while making his pina coladas, but the other cast members aren’t about to be outdone and give it their all in whichever of the many characters they become. There are changes of accent, lurches from the US to the East End (Adam Meggido suddenly going all Danny Dyer was a highlight) and mimed animals of various sizes.

There’s no set to speak of, just a few chairs and a table, and this is a show that doesn’t need more. Accompaniment is provided by Chris Ash on keyboard and Craig Apps on percussion from the rear of the stage, again making improvised performance look easy.

For an extra treat, the pre-show music is a wonderful compilation of musical theatre songs from across the eras, a name-that-show quiz for the audience while they wait for the curtain to go up.

This is a show you can see multiple times and it will be a fun new experience every single time. Showstopper! is touring and streaming, so there’s no excuse – book now!

Reviewer: Carole Gordon

Reviewed: 7th June 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★