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Showstopper! The Improvised Musical
Published on Tuesday, 25 August 2009

“Ingrid Bergman!” As soon as I shouted that out as a suggestion for a film style, I knew I had got the wrong name. Despite embarrassing myself to a packed audience (thankfully the inevitable mocking was brief), Showstopper! was perhaps the best experience I've had on the Fringe this year. The musical I saw that night was one of the funniest, most professional I've witnessed - and yet it was all improvised!

The show began with a writer, played by Sean McCann, on the phone to an imaginary producer. Warned that he may lose his funding if he can't come up with a new blockbuster musical in the next hour, McCann turns to the audience for ideas - and the shouting of suggestions begins. The final product, Dig My Patch, set around an allotment (by far the funniest response to a call for an epic location for a musical) was destined to include a an array of musical styles and one scene in the style of my intended suggestion, Ingmar Bergman.

For the next hour, McCann plays the “host” character you find in many improv groups, directing things and moving scenes along when they start to drag. At times, you feel he is exercising a little too much control; but it's usually for the best. The final story ended up making sense, having an emotional heart and yet was still splashed with the odd dash of utter wackiness. McCann clearly was having fun coming up with some of his own ideas, at one stage forcing poor Ruth Bratt to carry on listing different types of sticks for a good minute.

And that seems to be the secret of this show. The cast all have impressive backgrounds in improvised comedy, and showed with a high level of professionalism in their delivery, timing and quick thinking. But when tackling an improvised musical, you need something a little more: it needs to actually stand up as a show. That's what Showstopper! have achieved. Using their own stock of props, and clearly discussing ideas backstage when not required in a scene, they deliver a level of professionalism sometimes not seen in a conventional musical - still less improv.

The only minor quibble I have is that since the cast come from a comedic background, the vocals can't compete which the excellence of the rest of the show. Only a few cast members could really pull off a show-stopping number, and the execution of the suggested musical styles sometimes missed their marks. For my part, I fear my Bergman suggestion was too left-field - though when Pippa Evans started speaking in a monotonic Scandinavian accent, I could have easily believed she had walked straight out of The Seventh Seal onto the stage.

Still, that cannot take anything away from my review. The best part is I can happily go back again and watch a brand new show. In fact, I'm a little upset I hadn't found this sooner... but then again, I'd probably have been hooked; and going every night would have got a little expensive.

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