Showstopper! The Improvised Musical (*****)

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Last night I had the absolute pleasure of watching Showstopper! The Improvised Musical at The Other Palace. This is an unusual one to review considering no two audiences will ever watch the same show, but I’m going to give it my best try!

When buying a ticket for Showstoppers, you are essentially buying a ticket for a show that has not yet been written. In this intimate theatre space, the audience is given the chance to assist in writing the show alongside the cast, who then completely improvised the entire performance based on the audience’s suggestions.

The show begins with the “writer”, who is tasked with writing a musical for a big-shot producer within two hours. He then turns to the audience and asks for five potential settings. Ours included a 1940’s detective agency, Bo-Kaap (a town in South Africa), and a Wetherspoons, but eventually we settled on the last ever Blockbuster store located in Anchorage, Alaska.

Next, the audience is asked for four musicals the show will mimic the style of. The shows chosen at the performance I attended were 42nd Street, Magic Mike, Cher, and Chicago. Following this, all that remains is for an audience member to suggest a name for the show, and after a clever suggestion from a gent in the second row, our musical ‘One Block Away’ began.

The most impressive part of Showstopper! was the music. Not only are the song lyrics, tune and harmonies completely improvised but the musicians are also in a league of their own, composing songs on the spot, many of which were well written, catchy tunes that were in keeping with the ever-changing musical style as redirected by the ‘writer’ and the audience throughout.

If you’d like an idea of what you might witness at Showstopper, our show included a Magic Mike style strip tease involving those in the front row, a strange rendition of Chicago’s ‘Cell Block Tango’ explaining why and how Alaskan citizens had migrated to Bo-Kaap in Cape Town, a trip to a library full of hippies practising free-love (inspired by Hair), and of course the title song ‘One Block Away’, which became a motif that cropped up time and again during the show.

All of the actors in the show were incredible, but Ruth Betts was a particular standout who carried much of the performance. Not only did she contribute more than her share of fresh ideas towards the plot, but she was also highly adaptable and coped well when there were twists in the action. One such example was when she came onstage smoking and then explained “I’m smoking a knitting needle” when one of her fellow actors suggested she was playing Miss Marple. She was a true joy to watch and brought the perfect balance of humour and sensitivity to her performance.

Showstopper makes for a truly incredible night of theatre and I can’t urge everyone enough to make their way to see it before it closes. I can’t tell you much about what you’ll watch, but I can promise you won’t regret it!

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