If you want to have a World Premiere of a new musical, Manchester is the place to come! Hot on the heels of Bat Out of Hell in 2017 and The Toyboy Diaries earlier this year, tonight Piste Off had its first public performance at the Palace Theatre. Piste Off is a musical set in PyeongChang, South Korea and follows the fortunes and love lives of the athletes competing in this sporting spectacular. Conceived by the people of Manchester for the people of Manchester I think this show has what it takes to last!
Now I have your attention, the truth….. Piste Off is indeed a new musical, and is conceived by the people of Manchester, however they had a little help from the genius team behind Showstopper! The Improvised Musical which was in town for one night only.
Beginning with a blank piece of paper the destiny of tonight’s show was chosen entirely by the audience. First up, a setting, with suggestions ranging from Manchester (imagination at its finest) to Newcastle to Brazil, however the Winter Olympics was an instant crowd pleaser when shouted out by an audience member. A title for the show was chosen the same way and “Piste Off” was born.
Finally, before the curtain could go up on the show the musical styles needed to be sought. Through audience suggestions once again it was decided that the performance would take on the styles of Avenue Q, Wicked, Joseph, Little Shop of Horrors and The Rocky Horror Show.
What is truly remarkable about what I saw on stage tonight is that all of it was improvised on the spot. I am not saying that the impeccable cast do not have “go to” numbers which they can shoe horn into each show but to have the ability to tailor them to the subject matter of the night and the style chosen at random by the audience is a masterclass in improvisation. It is little wonder Showstopper has lauded such high praise wherever it has been seen, be it the Edinburgh Fringe or the West End!
As the story unfolded songs such as “The Winner Inside” from Joseph and “Make Myself Happy” from Wicked brought huge cheers of appreciation from the audience I detected was made up of mostly musical theatre fans, many of which are currently studying the same at various establishments across the City. The act 1 closing number “I Want to Win” could easily have graced many a West End show.
The audience once again became involved with the opening of Act 2 by tweeting in during the interval as to how they saw the storyline progressing. So, an underground Scrabble tournament interrupted by an IOC doping test official gave way to a Rocky Horror inspired song based on “The Time Warp” which culminated in the whole audience rising to their feet to perform the choreography that accompanied it.
An astounding performance of “Loser” in the style of show of the moment Hamilton was met with the greatest ovation of the night, just how the cast managed to work that into the storyline I will never know but I am certain Lin-Manuel Miranda himself would be highly impressed.
“Snowy Time” from Little Shop of Horrors made way for the finale of the piece and the title of the show “Piste Off” ending what was a night of musical theatre indulgence.
A sparse set and a limited number of props were well thought out and used to their full potential especially during the Avenue Q homage. With cheerleader pom-poms being used to simulate snow and later fireworks I found myself asking if there was anything this cast couldn’t imagine.
A seven strong cast lit up the Palace stage tonight with Susan Harrison standing the tallest of them all despite her petite figure. Musical Director Duncan Walsh Atkins led a three piece band who matched the cast for their talent every beat of the way.
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical is an absolute triumph which I cannot recommend enough. Even if you don’t subscribe to musical theatre grab a ticket and marvel at the improvisational genius upon the stage.
Reviewer: Paul Downham
Reviewed: 10th February 2018
North West End Rating: ★★★★★