The month of May usually sees people in Europe (and, more recently, Australia) come together to celebrate one of the ‘quirkier’ nights in the music calendar: the Eurovision Song Contest. However as a result of the coronavirus outbreak this year’s event – due to be held in the Netherlands – has been cancelled; the first time in its history that the contest has been unable to go ahead. Thankfully top improvisation group The Showstoppers have come to the rescue with their Alternative Eurovision Song Contest, helping to lift people’s spirits while raising money for The Care Workers Charity.
The group, best known for making up musicals on the spot, came together yesterday evening with a few special guests to create an unforgettable take on the annual event, with sixteen performances from contestants hailing all the way from Azerbaijan to Turkey, each of them performing their songs in isolation. During a 90-minute live stream viewers were treated to some iconic performances from Showstoppers crew Jonathan Ainscough, Ruth Bratt, Justin Brett, Julie Clare, Dylan Emery, Susan Harrison, Ali James, Joshua Jackson, Sean McCann, Adam Meggido, Philip Pellew, Heather Urquhart and Lucy Trodd; along with guest performers Josie Lawrence, Mike McShane, EGG and Jordan Gray. Meanwhile the Showstoppers own Pippa Evans and Andrew Pugsley presented, with Pugsley also responsible for editing the videos. They were joined by guest judges Christopher Biggins, Arlene Philips, London Hughes and Claire Sweeney, while Eurovision expert Tony Cordial (Philip Pellew) was on hand to share facts. Possibly the most memorable role at Eurovision is that of the commentator, with Terry Wogan and Graham Norton both entertaining the nation over the years with their opinions of the performers. For this alternative event the enviable task fell to comedian Tom Allen, who amused throughout with his witty remarks. Members of the public who donated to the Showstoppers’ Justgiving page were able to cast their votes for their favourite entry before the performers had their own say, and unlike the actual show, the results weren’t dragged out unnecessarily.
What was so great about the Showstoppers’ Alternative Eurovision was that it captured all of the elements of Eurovision, from cheesy introduction videos to the awarding of the points, political voting, and even a throwback to bygone days, with Damathous Mamanappi’s 1964 performance of ‘Wind In My Valley’ for Cyprus. Like the ‘real’ Eurovision there was an eclectic mix of musical tastes including Europop, ballads, hard rock (hello Russia) and cheese. All of the numbers were performed with a little help from Duncan Walsh Atkins, Christopher Ash and Jordan Clarke (musical arrangements, production and keys), Alex Atty and Craig Apps (percussion) and Dylan Emery and Justin Brett (guitars). None of the songs would have sounded out of place in the actual contest, and there was the perfect combination of some wonderfully catchy tunes (you’re guaranteed to have Yosie Longrance’s (Josie Lawrence) entry for Denmark, ‘Bink Bonk Bink (Cheeky Monkey)’ in your head for days); and the more random songs, like Archangel’s (Sean McCann) ‘I’m In A Shed (I’m The New King) for Russia, and Yana Novakovakova’s (Jordan Gray) fight for the penguins in the Czech Republic’s ‘Sad Clown’. While Germany’s Rama Stein (Heather Urquhart) was a surprise winner with ‘Bundesliga Dankeschoen Schmetterling Muttersöhnchen’, some of the other memorable performances included Italy’s hopeful Maria’s (Julie Clare) with her song ‘Only You’, and Olive and Mabel’s (Ruth Bratt) ‘Domino’ for Finland (who should have received bonus points for her name). The performers’ music videos also provided plenty of entertainment, and Ireland’s Fergal Brogue (Jonathan Ainscough) particularly delighted with his camera fails for ‘If You’re With Me’; as did France’s Le Bon Bon, his video for ‘Super Sweet’ featuring a surprisingly British selection of sweets. One of the highlights of the night was when Showstoppers came together to sing what their UK entry would be, proving they could have what it takes to lead us to a good result in 2021.
There were a few sound glitches on the night, but thankfully they were resolved swiftly and didn’t detract overall from what was a perfect evening’s entertainment. Each of the performers got into the swing of things as they embodied their character’s individual quirks, while the guest judges were all good sports, with Arlene Philips particularly amusing with a handy range of props. With memorable songs, performances that really captured the spirit of Eurovision and a much-needed dose of comedy, all for a worthy cause, the Showstoppers’ contest was a love letter to the Eurovision Song Contest and certainly deserved of douze points. This is the first year of the alternative contest, but hopefully it’s not the last.