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Showstopper!: The improvised musical that will make you laugh and cry



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Imagine a fully improvised show, based on audience suggestion, that isn’t just a play but an all-singing, all-dancing musical extravaganza – well, that’s exactly what you get with Showstopper! The Improvised Musical.

Showstopper! Picture: Geraint Lewis for the West End Apollo Theatre production
Showstopper! Picture: Geraint Lewis for the West End Apollo Theatre production

Described as “so polished, it defies belief” by the Daily Telegraph, Cambridge audiences will have the chance to see these masters of their craft – direct from the West End – in action when the gifted company, which includes actors from TV programmes such as People Just Do Nothing, Drunk History and Peep Show, comes to the Arts Theatre for a three-night run starting on June 30.

Speaking to the Cambridge Independent from Tunbridge Wells, a stop on the tour, Adam Meggido, co-creator/co-director (along with Dylan Emery), said: “Every night is a wild ride, every night’s completely different.

“We’ve just come back from Stoke, where we did a show which, amazingly, the audience wanted set in the Plague. So we created a kind of little village in the year 973 and spun a wonderful comedy out of it.”

With 12 years as an Edinburgh Fringe must-see phenomenon, a BBC Radio 4 series and an Olivier Award to their name, the Showstoppers have wowed audiences across the globe with their ingenious blend of comedy, musical theatre and spontaneity.

It continues to play monthly at the Lyric Theatre in the West End and in the autumn of 2015, it became the first long-form improv show to have a full run in the West End at the Apollo Theatre.

Showstopper! Picture: Geraint Lewis for the West End Apollo Theatre production
Showstopper! Picture: Geraint Lewis for the West End Apollo Theatre production

Unsurprisingly, putting on an ambitious piece of musical theatre of this magnitude requires actors of some talent. “Yeah, it takes a long time to learn how to be a Showstopper,” says Adam, who often takes part himself, “you need a huge variety of skills, a real range of skills.

“Firstly, you need to know how to improvise, but you also need to understand story and how to improvise a story. A lot of improvisation, traditionally, is short-form, quick-fire comedy. Well that’s great but that’s not exactly what we want if we’re telling an entire story.

“You’ve got to be able to do that and then change your speed and know when to move the story on, know when not to move the story on – know when to introduce something new, know when to keep things as they are...

“You need a really good understanding of story and story dynamics – and then of course you need to be musical, you need to have good planning skills, you need to work really well in a team, in an ensemble. There’s a lot going on and we are very, very lucky to have such a talented group of people working so hard on the show.

“Musicians as well, and of course our lighting operator is improvising, all the musicians and the sound technicians are improvising – nobody knows how this show is going to go and what it’s going to be. Every single second of it is improvised.”

Showstopper! Picture: Geraint Lewis for the West End Apollo Theatre production
Showstopper! Picture: Geraint Lewis for the West End Apollo Theatre production

Alongside the show about the Plague, what are some other memorable Showstopper! performances? “Oh, we’ve been everywhere,” says Adam, whose musical, Burlesque, won Best New Musical at the 2012 Offie Awards.

“We’ve been in Ikea, several times in fact, we’ve been on pirate ships, we’ve been in space, we’ve done weird historical epics... Sometimes the most vital stories are very surprising; there was one set in like a trendy vegan health food shop that turned out to be this amazingly beautiful, very moving story about a family reconciliation.

“I remember one that when we asked the audience where it was set, an audience member shouted out, ‘Inside my mother’s head!’ And we said, ‘Who’s your mum?’ and they said, ‘My mum’s name is Jose’. We went, ‘What, so you want a show set inside Jose’s head?’

“And the audience voted for it – because we come up with a few ideas and then the audience vote for their favourite, so we know that we’re serving the majority of our audience and also so everyone knows we’re not trying to fix anything.

“So we did this show set in this guy’s mum’s head and it turned out to be very powerful – very funny and then very beautiful as well. I think that’s a big part of the show; it’s a comedy show, there are a lot of guaranteed laughs, but also we like to be moving, we want to break your heart as well.”

Showstopper! Picture: Geraint Lewis for the West End Apollo Theatre production
Showstopper! Picture: Geraint Lewis for the West End Apollo Theatre production

Although each night’s performance comes from the audience’s suggestions – and theatre-goers also vote to control the direction the show takes at various points throughout – Adam wishes to make it clear that audience members are not forced to participate.

“Anyone who has an idea can shout it out; it goes on a list and then the audience vote for their favourite,” he says, “so we are 100 per cent improvising, but it’s the audience who own the show. We love being led by our audiences.”

He adds: “Basically, it’s everything you could want from a musical – it’s just made up on the spot.”

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical will be on at the Cambridge Arts Theatre from Thursday, June 30 to Saturday, July 2. Visit cambridgeartstheatre.com. For more on the show, go to showstopperthemusical.com.

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