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Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

Wednesday, 25 August, 2010

Edinburgh  2010 –   Gilded Balloon   –  4 – 30 Aug 10  –  22:50 (1.00)

Andrew Lloyd-Webber Never Dies

Every night, a different musical

If nothing else, ‘Showstopper! the improvised musical’ is a great night out, going by the grins on departing audiences’ faces.  But there is a lot more to this musical than simple fun and laughter. This is the kind of one-off show that gets people talking.

The process begins with suggestions from the audience.  Some are discounted, the best voted on democratically.  The cast then have no time at all to start acting and singing, directed by a mediator on the side of the stage who interrupts every so often, with ever increasing demands such as ‘I said more references to West End shows’ on the night of ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber Never Dies’.  Led by a keyboard player, the cast cleverly integrate humour, showstopping solos and even tuneful harmonies.  Utilising the well worn Lloyd Webber formula of wistful looks, slow steps towards and away from one another, peppered with regular smatterings of jazz hands, the result is a kind of cliché, as this is surely the only way that providing a new musical every night could work.  A funny farce of a musical follows.

The most impressive aspect of the show is the ability of the cast to think on its feet, coming up with endless rhyming couplets to tell a story that has not yet been written.  Quick thinking, talented comedians as well as accomplished musicians, this cast is at the top of their game.  Many of its members perform daily in other shows at the Fringe.  Despite the demands of improvising storyline, music and humour, awkward pauses are kept to an absolute minimum, and nearly all songs and sketches are to the standard expected in any musical.  Ruth Bratt, in particular, has a strong, versatile voice which is a pleasure to hear, and each of the remaining cast members is able to harmonise with whoever has begun singing, a peculiar skill considering that these songs have never before been sung.  Although a strategy for success which can be applied to each show must be in place, it is rather the experience and expertise of the cast, allowing imperceptible communication between its members, which paves the way for such delightful entertainment in demanding circumstances.  A word with returning audience members (and there are many) confirms that each show is, indeed, improvised and unique.

In ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber Never Dies’, the audience was treated to a story of betrayal and ultimate devotion between two sisters, hopeful to follow in their father’s footsteps and sing on stage at Lloyd Webber’s memorial gig.  With X factor style hopefuls, a sob story, baddies in the shape of directors looking for cash (singing a catchy background rift of ‘and the money keeps rolling in’), and the final realisation that neither money nor fame brings happiness, perhaps this generic sequence of characters and ideas is standard, but it is brought together by quick, commendable, stand-up style humour.

The musical talent and comic expertise of this cast is unquestionable, and the idea for the show, innovative.  However, as control comes largely from the on stage director, more audience input may be appreciated.  Cast members laughing aloud at their ludicrous of-the-cuff ideas (‘no I’m not doing that, that’s too weird’) is endearing, and authenticates the improvisation aspect, but could make an audience feel isolated if they miss the in-joke.  Occasionally these jokes become a little naughty.  Then again, this is a late night show, and political slights aside, there is nothing to offend here.

Watching ‘Showtopper! the improvised musical’ is like watching stand-up, enjoying West End wonders, and being treated to something unique all at the same time.   A great show.

Cast and company credits:  Chris Ash.  Ruth Bratt.  Julie Clare.  Dylan Emery.  Pippa Evans.  Sean McCann.  Adam Meggido.  Phillip Pellow.  Nigel Pilkington.  Andrew Puglsey.  Oliver Senton.  Lucy Trodd.  Duncan Walsh-Atkins.  Sarah-Louise Young.

(c) Claire Higgins 2010

Reviewed Saturday 21st August 2010.

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