Showstopper! – The Improvised Musical is fast becoming a Fringe institution, both in Edinburgh (where it debuted last year, with the help of the late, great Ken Campbell) and in London (where it’s had regular stints at the King’s Head and Leicester Square theatre since).
By the time the festival ends this bank holiday weekend, the Showstopper! team will have presented 24 new musicals. As the full title suggests, these mini world premieres are improvised anew at each performance.
Musical director Dylan Emery is notionally in charge, marshalling the various components, though doubtless not even he can predict where things are going most of the time. Emery begins by inviting suggestions from the audience on a story, title and different musical styles to be incorporated, and then, while also leading the four-piece onstage band, starting and stopping the performers to redirect them, instruct them on setting, choreography and other production enhancements, and send them off on new plot tangents until they eventually reach some sort of sensible climax.
The performers respond with aplomb. To witness them launching into a big production number and somehow coordinate on-the-fly lyrics and refrains is a awe-inspiring – and often very very funny. This is ensemble work in the most daring sense of the word.
By its sheer nature, Showstopper! is a difficult thing to pin down and review – it is truly different every single night with, during the Fringe, additional performances based on a critics’ fictional reviews (See Michael Coveney’s blog to read how they brought his “dream” musical to life) and other special guest ‘book writers’ – but I can happily declare it to be ever fresh and inventive, even more so on repeat viewing.
NOTE: The above review dates from August 2009 and this production's run at the Edinburgh Fringe 2009. At the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe, Showstopper! The Improvised Musical runs from 6-29 August 2010 at Gilded Balloon Teviot.