Review - Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

For most people, a great musical is one which features catchy songs, amazing choreography and a compelling story. These elements can take weeks of rehearsal to perfect, therefore to some the idea of an improvised musical is preposterous. However, that is just what theatre company The Showstoppers are offering in Showstopper! The Improvised Musical.
Photo credit - Geraint Lewis
The premise is ingenious. At the beginning of the show the audience is invited to shout out ideas for plot points, settings, songs and even the show's title itself. The cast then improvise a full length musical based almost entirely on the audience members' suggestions. To many, the task would be entirely impossible, but the cast of Showstopper! demonstrate a level of harmoniousness which makes improvising a 2 hour long musical look effortless. 

The most fantastic thing about Showstopper! is that literally anything could happen. The night this review was written the musical was entitled Toga-hontas. Set in ancient Greece, two army generals returned from war to find their city destroyed by famine. The plot was full of love triangles upon love triangles, a slowmo gladiator fight and a trip to the underworld, and also featured songs inspired by Rock of Ages, Hairspray and Grease (what else?). 

Every cast member and musician worked incredibly hard and all were totally in tune with one another throughout the show. Every song was full of lightning quick quips, innuendos and double entendres which keep the audience on their toes. 

As well as the amazing tunes, the cast also improvised some hilarious comedic moments which had tears of laughter streaming down audience members' faces. The plot was slick, for the most part, and when the story did become sidetracked Dylan Emery (who acted as a host for the performance) was quick to step in and focus it. 

All in all, Showstopper! is the perfect night out for anyone who enjoys musical theatre, comedy, improv, or a combination of all three! No two shows are ever the same, so make sure you catch Showstopper! in Edinburgh this summer. Find out more information by visiting their website at!

Review - Romeo and Juliet ((Garrick Theatre) via live broadcast)

Every year, countless productions of Romeo and Juliet are staged around the country. Some remain faithful to the original text and recreate the staging conditions as accurately as possible, while some opt for the popular technique of modernisation, in text, costuming, context or oftentimes a combination of all three elements. Either way, over 400 years since it was written, just about every staging gimmick has been done to death. And yet this production, set in 1950s Italy and screened in black and white to emphasise this (and create a subtly film noir esque air), Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford's production felt refreshingly uncomplicated, but stylish nonetheless. 

Photo credit - Johan Persson
Screening the production in black and white really emphasised what an elegantly designed production this was. The costumes by Christopher Oram were chic and flattering, and set design, also by Christopher Oram, was similarly slick and felt simultaneously airy and claustrophobic. Both elements helped to plant the production firmly in 1950s Verona. While the use of black and white to represent the two feuding families was not exactly groundbreaking, dressing the lovers in monochromatic costumes was an interesting appendage to the symbolism. 

While it was clear that this production was built around Richard Madden and Lily James (last seen as lovers in Disney's 2015 Cinderella remake, which Branagh also directed). The most interesting bit of casting was undoubtedly Derek Jacobi as Mercutio. Jacobi played an aged yet mischievous and rather dapper Mercutio, and his unconventional casting changed the dynamic of Romeo, Benvolio (Jack Colgrave Hirst) and Mercutio's friendship for the better, emphasising Mercutio's role as the peacekeeper of the group, while revelling in jokes and innuendo. Given how likable the character was, it was a shame to see his duel with Tybalt (Ansu Kabia) was practically non-existent, and his death scene seemed rushed and lacked any sense of real tragedy or loss. Meera Syal was similarly engaging as Juliet's loving yet exasperated nurse, and her comedic and somewhat coy performance was original and very entertaining.

Photo credit - Johan Persson
As the titular characters, Richard Madden and Lily James were likable, but did little to elevate the text or present it in any groundbreaking way, and  both seemed too mature to convincingly sell the rashness of the pair's hormone and malaise fuelled love at first sight. However, the couple did share several entertaining scenes including a particularly humorous balcony scene, and James' heartbreaking and hysterical act two Juliet was devastatingly good, if a little cloying toward the middle of the act.

Act two seemed shorter than usual, and yet still the bombardment of heightened emotion meant that the dramatic finale failed to pack the level of punch expected from the classic tragedy. However, the finale did bring with it one of the most affecting moments of the night, delivered by Michael Rouse and Chris Porter as Lords Capulet and Montague. Their reconciliation at the very end was touching and striking in its simplicity. 

All in all, while by no means groundbreaking, this production of Romeo and Juliet was entertaining, voguish and well cast, and the conversion to black and white on screen worked very well. It is brilliant to see such a star studded production made so accessible via cinema screening, and while the pros and cons of recorded videos vs. live theatre are still being debated, increasing the accessibility of high profile productions can't be a bad thing!

Review - She Loves Me (BroadwayHD)

The idea of filming theatrical performances has been debated heavily for many years now, as more and more theatrical productions here in the UK are recorded and released in the cinema. However, on June 30th, history was made as She Loves Me became the first Broadway show to ever be livestreamed around the world for anyone to enjoy! The full show, which is currently available to watch on the BroadwayHD website for only $9.99, will soon be taken down, edited and then reuploaded later this year. The editing will no doubt iron out some of the minor sound and picture faults which were somewhat inevitable in a livestream, however, even without this addition postproduction the livestream was a total success and will no doubt have converted some of those who were more dubious about the idea of presenting theatrical productions in a digital medium.

Photo credit - Joan Marcus
She Loves Me is a fluffy and fun romantic comedy, set in 1930s Budapest, which follows two parfumerie clerks Amalia (Laura Benanti) and Georg (Zachary Levi) who can't stop bickering with each other at work, despite the fact that secretly each is the other's anonymous pen pal. Written by Joe Masteroff,  with music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick respectively, the plot is saccharine yet irresistible (much like the vanilla ice cream which Amalia fawns over in act 2) and filled with hilarious beats and brilliant one liners, while the songs are instantly hummable, with clever rhymes and satisfying counterpoints. It is hard to imagine this show failing to charm an audience, and this particular production is elevated by an outstanding cast which ensures that audience are left captivated. 

Although perhaps best known for his role in NBC's beloved comedy spy show Chuck, Zachary Levi is the perfect Broadway leading man, with easy charisma and a gorgeous singing voice, he injects a charming goofiness into his role, and showcases his impressive vocal talents throughout, particularly in the show's titular song She Loves Me, which is performed with boundless exuberance. He shares the stage with Broadway star Laura Benanti who showcases impeccable comedic timing and a stunning and effortless legit soprano. She is well deserving of the final bow. The pair have sumptuous chemistry on-stage, which makes the ending hugely gratifying, yet predictable of course! 

Photo Credit - Joan Marcus
Additionally, Jane Krakowski puts a wonderfully suggestive spin on the cutesy clerk Ilona, and Gavin Creel is scene stealing as slimy cad Steven Kodaly. Their B-plot tryst is deliciously engrossing and culminates in an outlandish song and dance number, Ilona, in which the pair chew the scenery like their lives depend on it. A glorious celebration of how over-the-top musical theatre can be, and not out of place in the semblance of reality in which this production of She Loves Me is set.

Photo credit - Joan Marcus
A first rate cast has been assembled for this production, and combines TV and film personalities with outstanding Broadway performers to great effect, which will no doubt have enticed audiences to watch the BroadwayHD recording who may not have otherwise been aware of its existence, or considered that it might be something that they would enjoy.

This production of She Loves Me also benefits from absolutely beautiful Tony Award winning set design. From the enticing parfumarie to a cosy cafe, to Amalia's homely bedroom, set designer David Rockwell has created an enticing picture of 1930s Budapest, which audiences will want to live inside. Similarly, thanks to Jeff Mahshie's costume design, every character is decked out in an enviable (and period appropriate) new outfit in every scene. 

For the inaugural BroadwayHD livesteam a more universally enjoyable Broadway show could not have been selected.  The 2016 revival of She Loves Me is a gorgeous production of  a delightful and timeless little show, and will hopefully go down in history as being the first of many livestreamed Broadway musicals, which allow those who don't have the means to travel to New York to enjoy top quality productions affordably, from the comfort of their own living room! 

Jeremy Jordan at the Hippodrome Casino

For many musical theatre fan, listening to cast albums is often to only way to get a taste of certain broadway shows. Although many shows which originate in New York end up transferring to the West End eventually, there are many others which fall by the wayside. An example of the latter is the 2012 Disney theatrical production, Newsies. There was a time a few years ago when Newsies was all I would listen to, and as such I became a huge fan of show's star Jeremy Jordan. 

After leaving Newsies (but not before bagging a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical) Jordan went on to appear in a number of high profile musicals, TV shows and movies, and secured a name for himself as one of Broadway's most reliable and versatile leading men. 

When the Broadway superstar announced a series of 3 concerts at London's Hippodrome Casino, it was obvious that demand for tickets would be huge. After all, Jeremy Jordan had amassed a vast and varied fan base throughout his career, having starred in Broadway shows such as the aforementioned Newsies as well as Bonnie and Clyde and West Side Story, films such as Joyful Noise and The Last 5 Years, as well as TV shows such as Smash and Supergirl. When tickets went on sale, over 5000 people tried to purchase them, and the venue's ticket website experienced so much traffic that it literally crashed. Thankfully though, against all the odds my friend and I managed to bag two tickets for the Thursday 8pm show, and so all that was left was to wait and wait for that day to arrive!

From the moment he stepped on stage (to rapturous applause, naturally!) Jeremy Jordan seemed totally at ease and immediately likeable. In addition to treating the audience to a number of his 'greatest hits' such as Broadway Here I Come, a song from the fictional musical Hit List, which his character Jimmy wrote on the TV show Smash, and Bonnie from the short lived but hugely popular Broadway musical Bonnie and Clyde, he also took time to tell the audience about his life and career in his own words, as well as treating us to a couple of songs which he himself had written. I actually really enjoyed these original songs and will definitely be buying Jeremy Jordan's upcoming debut album when it is released. 

Jeremy Jordan is such a talented performer, and just being at the concert had me grinning from ear to ear throughout, but a few moments really stood out. Firstly, it was a treat to hear him sing Moving Too Fast from Jason Robert Brown's musical The Last 5 Years. The musical itself is one of my favorites, and hearing Jeremy Jordan (who starred in the musical's 2012 film adaptation opposite Anna Kendrick) sing the song with such flair and enthusiasm was a real highlight. Equally, when Jordan invited his wife Ashley Spencer to join him on stage and duet the musical theatre staple Take Me Or Leave Me it was clear how much fun the pair were having, and that enthusiasm was shared by the audience, who went wild for the no holds barred performance. However, perhaps the most magical part of the evening came right at the end, when the audience was treated to a breathtaking rendition of Santa Fe, from Newsies. For me, at least, Newsies was my first introduction to Jeremy Jordan's talent and so hearing him perform such a powerful song live was just spectacular. 

Sadly, Jeremy Jordan has now played all of his UK concerts, and has returned to America where he will next be seen as Tony in the Hollywood Bowl concert of West Side Story. It was such a delight to experience such a high profile Broadway actor give such an enjoyable and intimate concert here in London, and I really hope this isn't the last time he crosses the pond. It is clear, judging by the demand for tickets, that he has thousands of fans here in the UK, and I know that I would certainly jump at the chance to see him perform again!