Secrets of the Trade

This is another review that Broadway Baby wouldn’t publish and asked me to rewrite.  I looked at it, but couldn’t see how to do it.  It’s about improvised musicals, and it’s my belief that in this particular genre there is rather less improvisation than you might think.  Hence I was less impressed than people who think that every single word and note is made up on the spot.  Showstoppers have a reputation for giving anyone who suggests that their work isn’t wholly impromptu a hard time, and BB didn’t want to the hassle.  It’s a bit like magicians, who guard their tricks jealously.  If you see the strings, the magic is gone.  But I worded this very carefully, since there are obvious areas of uncertainty, and inevitably it has to be speculation.  So – publish and be damned!  I;’ve been threatened with libel before.  Do your worst, Showstoppers!

Showstoppers Family Matinees

Not Quite So Clever As It Looks


Showstoppers have been improvising musicals for several years now, and an edited version has had a series on BBC Radio 4.  This is the kiddies’ version, albeit with the familiar ingredients.  The audience get to choose a location.  Someone called out The Wizard of Oz, immediately seized on as a Fantasy Kingdom.  The heroine was Gabrielle, the name of a cute tot in Row Seven noted for her loving nature, prettiness and energy (her mother said).  We were asked for genres to parody – Wicked, The Lion King and Grease were all cues for song styles.  And the characters in the Kingdom were dragons.  There were more prompts later, but that gave the basic framework for a tale of a little girl visiting the dragon kingdom and going on a quest to become the ruler.  When she does, she sets the dragons free, but they decide they want to serve humans anyway.  Quite enough for an hour long show.

There is some doubt about how much is actually improvised.  The dialogue certainly, but my guess is that at least most of the songs have a framework, a tune and the bones of a chorus which are set up in advance, and then an additional quatrain or two is improvised, to yank the song into the plot.  So, for example, the closing Grease parody is ‘Now we have our freedom, ha – ha –ha’ and you could easily change it to any other successful outcome – ‘the money’, ‘our granny’ etc., etc.  Certainly without knowledge of a preordained tune you couldn’t achieve the kind of chorus work necessary.

The range of plots can be refined.  I also suspect that when asked to produce musical styles, audiences will come up with a limited range of choices (Phantom of the Opera? Mamma Mia?),  from which the MC can then choose.  So there is at least scope for a strong element of preparation for possibilities.

Maybe it was the restriction imposed by a family audience which inhibited the improvisers, and they need scope for innuendo and smut to come alive.  Nobody could expect Instant Sondheim under the circumstances, but I expected something altogether sharper and wittier.  And a bit more charisma on stage.

To be fair, the family audience I saw this with were far more enthusiastic than I was, for which I give the show an extra star.

Peter Scott-Presland




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