Direct from the West End, the Olivier Award winning Showstopper! The Improvised Musical returns to Ireland, playing in Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from May 9 – 11.
Speaking to Travel Ireland, some of the cast and crew discuss how exactly one prepares for a show made up on the spot. “It’s like a football team”, says cast member and movement director Ali James. “We meet very regularly to practice the passes we might do, choreography, singing, acting and constructing narratives. We also look at the tropes of musical theatre. But then when we go out on the pitch to play, every time it’s completely different.”
Each show is spun from audience suggestions. Cast member and associate artistic director Andrew Pugsley states: “There’s an MC character. The frame is he’s a playwright writing a musical. He talks directly to the audience. From them, he gets suggestions on where the musical is set whether it be a submarine or Tesco. They vote on the best idea and the cast come out as figments of his imagination and perform.”
“The MC will go back to the audience throughout the show to get extra ideas or hear what type of songs attendees want. We do homages to musicals. If they shout out Les Mis, we make up a song based on that.”
While the cast try to brush up on the history of the towns they play in, they are occasionally thrown suggestions they do not understand. “Sometimes we don’t get the stuff being shouted at us,” says cast member Justin Brett. “But the audience get a lot of joy from that. We just put our own spin on the suggestion. These misunderstandings we have fun with as much as we can.”
The cast also recounted to Travel Ireland Magazine some of their favourite musicals made up on the spot. James says: “We did a show set in a Barbie maternity ward once. It became this story all about being real and true to who you are because we were all made of plastic. I played pregnant Barbie. Andrew was Ken. In the end, there was this amazing Wicked style montage. We had the baby and it was human and real. It was actually really moving.”
Pugsley’s highlight, meanwhile, he describes as a ‘Jumanji musical’. “We did one quite recently where the audience suggestion for a setting was a Monopoly board. A group of people having a game night got sucked into their board game. What happened in there made them discover new things about themselves and their relationships. They came out at the end having learned their lessons.”
Many people across the world have fallen for this improv musical, with it picking up the Olivier Award for best entertainment and family show in 2016. “Before winning, we were the only improv show to have a full run in the West End, says Pugsley. “Being people who grew up watching Whose Line Is It Anyway?, playing a little bit part in making this art-form more legitimate in the eyes of the theatre scene is really exciting.”
Pugsley also says that even if someone is not a fan of musicals, they will still enjoy Showstopper!. “The show works for people who love musicals because you see us celebrating, honouring them. However, for those who hate musicals, you see us deconstructing the genre. People have approached us after shows to say: ‘My wife dragged me along but I was really won over by the end of it.”
Showstopper! musical director Duncan Walsh Atkins is particularly excited to be back in Ireland. It’s the show’s first time in six years and their biggest production to date in the country. “We’ve toured Ireland before and it’s been a fantastic experience. Nearly always we play modern, well-equpped, newly built theatres. The audiences are always appreciative. We’ve had some great times.”
Tickets are on sale for Showstopper! now, costing from €16. For more information about the show, see here.