Originally published in Fest magazine, August 2012.
The premise is simple: an entirely improvised musical, based on audience suggestions and consequently completely different every night. Making it look easy, however, is a different matter, and The Showstoppers is a slick example of how entertaining and downright impressive longform improvisation can be.
A prologue explains that the director (co-founder Dylan Emery) has one night to create a smash hit musical. Stuck for ideas, he turns to the audience. More ridiculous suggestions are vetted, with a final verdict being decided by an audience vote – on this occasion, a zombie musical. The crowd also choose the setting, and the styles for the piece’s hit songs. The troupe will have a go at anything, from the obvious (Rocky Horror Show) to the niche (2011’s London Road, anyone?).
There is an element of conscious crafting to the show: Emery stops the action from time to time to ask the cast for extra explanation or to take things in a different direction. Combined with his consideration of proffered ideas, this gives the piece coherence, stopping the cast from getting stuck playing out a deliberately obtuse suggestion or becoming caught up in dialogue that isn’t going anywhere.
This is not to say, however, that the show lacks spontaneity – anything but. The interaction between the band and the cast, in particular, is incredible. It’s impossible to say who decides the direction of the songs, which reflects how polished the performance as a whole feels. Accomplished and professional,The Showstoppers merit a second viewing, if only to check that they really don’t have a formula: it almost feels too good.