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Showstopper! The Improvised, Socially Distanced Online Musical – Q&A With Ali James

screenshot of four actors wearing red, black, and white, all separated and filmed by different cameras but edited together to look as though they're standing next to each other

This time last year, the words ‘social distancing’ would have had no place whatsoever in our vocabulary. Fast forward to July 2020, and the news that The Showstoppers would be performing a socially distanced improvised musical was enough to make my stagey heart sing for the first time in months.

So many of us are badly missing theatre and feeling somewhat helpless about the devastating challenges the arts industry is going through. However, if the creatives in this area are one thing, they’re resilient… and Showstopper’s efforts to produce a remote, socially distanced musical to be streamed to audiences at home is a prime example of that. Based entirely on audience suggestions being communicated via YouTube’s online chat feature, the talented cast and crew improvised an entire hour-long musical, complete with storylines, punchy humour and even live music from the band. Tickets were incredibly affordable, with standard and concession prices available, and in my opinion, provided excellent value for money.

screenshot of showstopper livestream on youtube, showing one male performer and chat box of audience members making suggestions for what happens next

I’ve been a fan of The Showstoppers for a long time now, and I’ve been lucky enough to physically attend a fair few shows of theirs over the years. The company’s ability to improvise so seamlessly and with such humour blows my mind every single time, and I’m thrilled to say that July’s online offering packed just as much punch as any other of their performances. This particular show found itself set in a mysterious bookshop, encapsulating complex relationship dynamics between members of the book club, an enigmatic poem that shrouds the characters in mystery, and a deceased father who wears a hat to disguise his lack of personality. Songs were also improvised in the style of Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, Beetlejuice and more, and a personal highlight was Justin Brett emotively belting out “READ FOR MEEEEEE” in honour of the Phantom of the Opera, which genuinely had me belly laughing from my sofa.

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