Showstopper! The (Socially Distanced) Improvised Musical Livestream

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At the end of August, Catherine Louise Whitehouse joined in a Showstopper! musical livestream. A very new experience, that she rated very highly, giving it a five star rating.

One thing I have really missed about theatre has been the sheer joy it brings to both cast and audience as they share in a collective live experience. Showstopper! manages to capture this perfectly despite the cast members being socially distanced in individual plastic booths all while interacting and feeding off of their live audience spread out across the globe, all of which was directed and presented by Andrew Pugsley. This is theatre redefined for our extraordinary, unprecedented times.

The plot of Showstopper! is unique and personal to the specific performance as it is created for and by the audience. The title of this particular musical, as chosen by the audience, was The Balloon Where It Happens (and obvious Hamilton reference due to the Hamilton inspired song requested by the audience) and centred around the lives of two couples, Lilian and Mori and Suzanne and Maurice, as they reflect on their lives together while celebrating their formers wedding anniversary on a trip in ‘Up Up and Away’ in a hot air balloon looking over New York City. An expected turn of events sees the group caught up in a thunderstorm which transports them back in time to their youth in around 1920, though the timing seems to change and get confused due to the nature of improvised theatre, and chaos ensues as every decision made changes and shapes how their lives would look back in the present day. What ensued was eighty minutes of both joy and raw emotion keeping the audience on the edge of their sofas before concluding with a beautiful message of living and loving each and every day to the fullest.

The cast was full of energy and the chemistry between them was electric. They appeared to connect with each other, seemingly telepathically, in order to produce a piece that flowed beautifully telling a story of love, life and regret – I was in awe of their ability even in these bizarre circumstances. Adam Meggido (who played Mori) was a personal highlight for me as he was so emotive and expressive managing to take the audience with him whether it was in a taxi in the 1920s as a youthful ambitious man or in a hot air balloon where he was portraying a much older character and everything in between and his body language, expressions and gestures more than made up for the inability to move and interact with fellow cast in close proximity due to social distancing. The entire cast were professional and in character throughout but when they did occasionally break, such as in an impromptu song about a french side character Pierre became US President that was performed in the style of the Muppets you could see the joy on their faces and you could tell they were having the time of their lives.

There was no staging in the traditional sense as the cast all were in booths filmed individually as cameras switched between them to move the plot along. That did not matter or take away from it, partly due to the amazing cast. The subtle costume changes (hats, scarfs etc) helped to differentiate between major and minor characters. It was manic and fun to watch especially when Justin Brett (Maurice) appeared as a New York Taxi Drive with a large crop of black hair and a strong accent (as opposed to the calm and collected Maurice) and made my housemate and I giggle. On top of this ‘EXITS’ signs were used to help the audience to follow the plot and the movement of characters so they could envisage what it would look like as a fully staged production.

Not to mention the music was exceptional! It really helped to set the tone and feel of the show and some of the songs had me in tears thanks to the beautiful score. It was also impressive the band (made up of Alex Atty and Duncan Walsh Atkins) managed to play inspired pieces with a moments notice at the request of the audience ranging from the classic ‘The Boyfriend’ to more modern shows like ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’.

turned-on flat screen television
Credits: Glen Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

It seems that online live performances are the future of theatre, at least for the time being, and if this means more Showstopper! The (Socially Distanced) Improvised Musical livestreams I for one will not be complaining although one day I would love to see the company on stage in their full glory.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced theatres in the West End and Broadway to be closed for well over a year now, we’ve been so lucky to have access to wonderful, innovative pieces of theatre at the click of a button. From the pro-shot of Hamilton being accessible on Disney Plus to The Shows Must Go On giving us a musical a week on Youtube at the height of lockdown and companies such as Showstopper! providing amazing live performances we have truly been spoiled for choice and it has helped the love of theatre to stay strong but also in many cases grow stronger as new people are able to watch these performances from the comfort of their own home. For a long time the cost of a theatre ticket has put many theatre fans and general theatre goers off but the online availability of theatre has opened doors up to many. I cannot wait for theatres to re-open so I can experience the joy of live theatre but this being said, I do believe that online performances and screenings are here to stay. Theatre has all of a sudden become far more accessible, one of the unexpected lights during the dark times of the pandemic which is something that should be celebrated and embraced.