Review: SHOWSTOPPERS, Theatre Royal Brighton

By: Apr. 07, 2019
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Showstoppers set and band

4 starsOn previous visits to Brighton, Sean McCall of the Showstoppers company recalls their creation of an improvised musical set on the Palace Pier, amongst other places.

Tonight, the audience gives the six-strong cast the task of producing Cheap As Chips - the Musical, set in the cheap seats of the balcony of the Theatre Royal that they're sitting in.

The Showstoppers are an award-winning group of improvisers who have been creating bespoke musicals for the past 11 years all over the UK. Their return trip to Brighton has brought many fans back to the Theatre Royal to see what they can produce this time and they certainly don't disappoint.

With the aid of a skilled three-piece band and Sean McCann subtly directing the action on stage with audience suggestions, the troupe of improvisers brings to life a hilarious story.

The tale follows multiple star-crossed love triangles between school friends and theatergoers Morgan (Justin Brett) and Stanley (Dylan Emery), the leading lady (Ali James) and Wendy from Front of House (Pippa Evans).

Evans delivers a larger-than-life performance, donning a very convincing Brightonian accent as she pines after Morgan in her role as Wendy.

Brett plays a delightfully whimsical chap as Morgan, but the standout moment of his performance was his ability to deliver serious Shakespearean parody, speaking in seamless rhyme.

Emery is delightful as despondent Stanley when ditched by Morgan for other romantic pursuits. James is a bright and cheery as Samantha Patterson, the leading lady of the Theatre Royal's productions.

Joshua Jackson also gains a lot of laughs from the audience as a juggling theatre producer and in the role of Morgan's mother.

All of the cast are expertly guided by McCann, pitching in at just the right moments to steer the narrative and take further suggestions from the enthusiastic audience.

Ideas for the plot are not all that is asked of the audience. The musical style is suggested for the form that imminent numbers should take.

Cheap As Chips features a Sondheim-esque ballad about the importance of friendship, a Rogers and Hammerstein dream sequence, and a rap number performed as a tribute to Lin-Manuel Miranda by a lonely hearts club.

The Showstoppers make good use of social media, encouraging the audience to tweet their ideas for Act II during the interval. A selection of these is read out at the top of the second half, allowing the audience to feel fully involved in the creative process.

The cast has an excellent rapport with each other and the crowd, seamlessly jumping into each other's numbers and picking up choreography and choruses in harmony. They try not to overcomplicate things or sing over each other too much, which works to their advantage compared to other improvisation companies of a similar sort.

Some of the funniest moments occur when continuity is lost between an aspect of the story or the situation is just so ludicrous that those onstage struggle to stay in character, however the audience is laughing too much to care - such is the nature and, most importantly, the purpose of improvised comedy.

Simple dark staging and minimal props are used to aid the story - a set of steps works well as the tiered seats of the Theatre Royal. Streamlined costumes in red, white and black hues give the brand-new musical a polished feel.

Some nods to Brighton are well received by the audience, such as references to seafood, the sea and a final declaration of love between two of the male protagonists - there's hopefully no issue with BroadwayWorld readers about me spoiling the end of this one-off show.

Leaving the theatre humming the opening and closing number "Up in the Sky" was a clear sign that the Showstoppers are highly skilled in creating a quality musical on the spot. A thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining evening.

Showstoppers - The Improvised Musical at Theatre Royal Brighton on 6 April and continue on tour

Photo credit: Geraint Lewis


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