Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

Created by the Company
Showstopper Productions
Ambassadors Theatre and touring
(2011)

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical publicity photo

They have already won awards in Edinburgh, wowed the punters at the King's Head and performed up and down the country but now the Showstopper team have found themselves a in a well-deserved spotlight in the West End. Each Tuesday for the coming weeks you can catch them at the Ambassadors Theatre when the Stomp! company have a night off, with a different brand-new musical every week

With a team of six all-round actor/dancer/singers, a pair of musicians and a 'writer' they improvise an entire musical based on suggestions from the audience. This week it began with Dylan Emery, co-founder of the show as the writer on the telephone to an impresario called Cameron. He was having his latest submission (Piranha-rama, the show they created last week) turned down so he offers a new one, already completed. Thinking on the hoof, getting the audience to call out suggestions and taking shouts of acclamation to decide which of them to go with, he tells 'Cameron' the setting, period, musical content and title of this non-existent work and promises to send it round in 70 minutes. That's all the time his team have to create it.

Last night suggestions for location included Stonehenge and the Pyramids but the final the choice fell on an undertaker's shop. Musical styles requested ranged from Gilbert and Sullivan to Guys and Dolls, Threepenny Opera to Rocky Horror with some clever-clogs in the circle pitching in with Ernesto El (unpronounceable or spellable) who he said wrote an Andalusian Suite. We got them all and more besides. Top titles the audience offered were Take Me Under and Bring out the Dead and they plumped for the latter.

So, there we were in the mortuary of an undertaker's in Blackheath with a couple laying out a body on the slab and straight into a number, "We love them, even though they're dead," and in no time we have Adam Meggido as undertaker Paul in love with Sally (Sarah-Louise Young, I think). "'I can smell corpses/ I can smell the future/ Why can't you lay me out/ Make me feel like a woman." Honestly, it sounds much better sung!

Soon we were deep in a story of body snatchers and medical experiment and a pair of doctors (Oliver Senton and Philip Pellow) who aren't medical men at all and our hero betraying his loved one into their hands with the help of embalming fluid.

It was an inspired piece of joyous, madcap creativity accomplished by an extraordinarily talented cast and musicians who pick up on each other's ideas immediately and just occasionally are halted by the writer to tidy up something too tasteless or lacking proper propriety. Emery's writer seemed to have an obsession with Napoleon and just occasionally he pushed the performers into areas outside their knowledge but that all adds to the fun. There were some delightful romantic numbers, a river boat tour of London (including a not yet created and certainly not riverside Trafalgar Square) and a lively point number for the doctors - I particularly liked a Kurt Weill number whose German lyric bore a strong resemblance to the text of a well-known car manufacturer's advertisements - and a rousing finale in the style of the Rocky Horror Show with its own quirky choreography.

If every week is as good as this then I can see it running and running. .

Tuesdays only at the Ambassadors until 29th March 2011 and various tour dates.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton