After the closures of several big budget shows recently, Rice, Lloyd Webber and Co. have been left scratching their heads as to what makes a hit musical these days. Well, the answer may well lie with an event taking place in a big purple cow, Showstopper! The Improvised Musical.
The recipe for an enjoyable musical, it seems, is a cast of eight actors, three musicians and some outrageous audience interaction. The brainchild of Adam Meggido and Dylan Emery, Showstopper! The Improvised Musical has become somewhat of a staple event at the Southbank venue and for a very good reason; It's very, very funny.
The premise is a simple one, Dylan Emery's character takes a call from a producer, obviously named "Cameron". The producer needs a new musical for one of his venues and quick. Cue audience interaction. We decide that we'd like to see a musical set in a maternity ward, with Sondheim, Boublil and Schönberg, Lion King and Blood Brothers influences. Oh and a Country and Western song thrown in for good measure. We also decide this show should, rather disturbingly, be called Crowning Glory. The cast then get to work improvising a whole musical, songs, choreography, plot et al.
According to notes in the programme, many people do not believe the show is improvised, instead that the company rehearse many different musicals and then use stooges in the audience to pick which show they perform, and it's not hard to see why some people would think that was the case.
The cast and musicians are incredibly in sync, improvising the book with wonderfully funny characters and plot twists, seemlessly writing and performing a score in real time complete with four part harmonies and titles including "It's Dark Down Here (In the Bottom of the Morgue)" and the Lion King inspired "Circle of Pain" ("Have a baby, have a-have a baby").
The Showstoppers company changes for each performance, so I was very pleased to see stand out performances from Adam Meggido, providing delightful interpretations of the Blood Brothers narrator and Lion King's Rafiki as well as the Les Mis inspired "Master of the Morgue", and Sarah Louise Young - recently seen in Julie Madly Deeply - holding everything together in the lead role, she truly is a rare talent, combining her stunning voice with an uncanny knack of finding the punchline in any situation.
As we left the venue through the rump of the purple cow, my wife suggested we get a group of people to come back for the next show, "after all it's going to be a completely different show next time". If I was a West End producer, this is exactly why I'd be investing in this fabulous night out.