Edinburgh 2018: BWW Review: SHOWSTOPPER! THE IMPROVISED MUSICAL, Pleasance Courtyard
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical makes a return visit to the Edinburgh Festival for its 11th consecutive year.
The premise is simple - create a brand new musical from scratch at every performance - but the execution is not. The actors are required to think quickly, and you have to admire the sheer speed at which they do that.
The show begins with the MC taking a phone call from a producer who is in desperate need of a new musical. The audience are asked to provide some ideas and vote on their favourite.
On the evening I was there, we had a close call between amateur Shakespeare and inside an audience member's mother's head. The audience made it very clear: they wanted to spend the next 70 minutes "Inside Mother José Head".
To give the cast some further challenges, the audience are asked to suggest some musical theatre shows or composers that the cast will have to replicate. From the audience, Waitress, Billy Elliot, Chicago and Oklahoma were selected. Quite a mix. Finally, the audience are asked to give the musical a name. One audience member was quick to shout out No Way José, and a title was born.
There were some genuinely funny moments. The introduction of a Blood Brothers-style twins separated at birth storyline led to a highly amusing song about hummus, duck-egg paint and an elephant with no trunk. What became the title song, "No Way José", is another example of when it works, it really works.
In amongst the successes there were, however, some real failures. The number in the style of Billy Elliot just didn't work. It was a flamenco-inspired number, and the only connection to Billy Elliot were a few references to dancing.
The cast work with incredible energy and they make sense, somehow, out of chaos - or perhaps we just accept the chaos. The level of performance though is not equal. I wouldn't expect a show like this to have perfection, but I would expect the singing to be tuneful - and there were too many moments when the quality of the vocals did not impress.
The band, however, are uniformly brilliant. Under the musical direction of Duncan Walsh-Atkins, they're secure, intuitive and provide so many subtle clues to other musicals you could make an evening out of that alone.