Thursday, March 19, 2015

Showstoppers, 22nd February

What can a musical that is completely improvised from audience suggestions possibly be like? A lot of fun I can tell you.

We take our seats and three musicians come on stage, along with Dylan Emery who turns out to be our show’s director-cum-narrator. A red phone rings. The premise is thus set – on the other end of the line is the producer (ostensibly Cameron Mackintosh) wanting to know if Dylan has a new show up his sleeves. Well, of course he does! Oh, what is it? Um… well… and here is where the audience has a chance to suggest the direction the show takes. We are asked for some settings and we end up with The International Space Station, Battersea Dog’s Home, the Titanic and one other. We then vote by cheering for the one we like the most. Battersea Dogs Home wins. We’re then asked for some musical styles to incorporate and the audience proffers Seussical the Musical, Fiddler on the Roof and South Pacific. Finally, Emery asks us for a style of musical that can be played on guitar. Of course we give him flamenco, the hardest to play.

Dylan gets back on the phone and tells Cameron he’s definitely got something and he’ll send over the script in about… ooh… 45 minutes? Just enough time for the actors to make something up. And hilarity ensues.

It really does. It’s improv so it’s not completely polished and you shouldn’t expect it to be. There are moments where the ‘actors’ don’t quite pick up each other’s cues, or they overlap but this is incredibly rare. They mostly succeed in putting together a very funny show, with a real narrative arc, and real, actual songs, that may even get stuck in your head! They sing in harmony, they dance in synchronization (nothing too fancy, mind) and each show is different from the last. I can’t guarantee this, having been to only one, but there were people in the audience who had clearly been before which I took as a sign that it doesn’t get too samey.

Our director doesn’t get involved in the storyline himself but instead his role is to interject and move the story along when necessary, or to interrupt in order to, basically, mix things up and challenge the performers. So, in the first half, he stopped the action to say they needed to sing the next number in a fun, punny, rhyming kind of way a la Seussical the Musical, and in the second act, he made them all sing one in the style of ‘the fast one’ from Urinetown – very fast-paced and quite the challenge to the actors.

Audience participation didn’t end with the beginning of the show. In the interval we were asked to tweet our suggestions about what would happen, which lead to our main protagonist (a female dog who wanted to be adopted and just get away from Battersea Dogs Home at any cost, despite having an admirer) being adopted by Snoop Dogg, and realizing that living with a human isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Of course, the other Dogs Home inhabitants come and find her and they all live with Snoop in a happy ending.

As well as being fairly consistently funny, they managed to get a few touching moments in, as each couple had their own lovestory and sometimes even a backstory. It was so entertaining that the first half positively whizzed by, although I must admit the pace slowed a little in the second half. There were still plenty of laughs to be had throughout.

I had thought £19 was a little expensive for this, but considering it is practically a real, full-length show, I think that’s a pretty decent price. If you love musicals and like to laugh, this is for you. 

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