A Broadway “showstopper” (or “show-stopper") is a performance that generates so much applause that it literally “stops the show.” The term was used in vaudeville in the early 1900s; “stopped the show” is cited in print from 1906. “Show stopper” is cited in print from at least 1917.
showstopper (plural showstoppers)
1. A performance or segment of a theatrical production that induces a positive reaction strong enough to pause the production.
2. (idiomatic) Any impediment that prevents all further progress.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Main Entry: show·stop·per
1 : an act, song, or performer that wins applause so prolonged as to interrupt a performance
2 : something or someone exceptionally arresting or attractive “the gold crown was the showstopper of the exhibition”
3 : one that stops or could stop the progress, operation, or functioning of something
— show·stop·ping \-ˌstä-piŋ\ adjective
(Oxford English Dictionary)
show-stopper, an item (esp. a song or other performance) in a show that wins so much applause as to bring the show to a temporary stop; also fig.; hence show-stopping
1926 Variety 18 Aug. 63/1 The first half [of the programme] held two *show-stoppers in the Dixie Four..who stopped the show..with their ‘itch’ dance finish, and Dave Apollon and Co., who stopped it, closing the first half.
1953 N. COWARD Noël Coward Song Bk. 76 ‘The Stately Homes of England’ was what is colloquially known as a ‘show stopper’.
1960 Sunday Express 18 Dec. 14/3 A show-stopper of shimmering silver lamé.
1967 T. STOPPARD Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead II. 50 Rosencrantz: I can’t remember how I did it. Guildenstern: It probably comes natural to you. Rosencrantz: Yes, I’ve got a show-stopper there.
30 December 1906, Montgomery (AL) Advertiser, “Won by a Violin,” pg. 9:
“Sure thing!” she confirmed. “We stopped the show. We’ll be headliners. Want to double up?”
18 January 1910, Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, NE), pg. 7, col. 2:
With the assistance of Miss Crawford he was so successful in impromptu work that they “stopped the show,” one of the greatest triumphs a vaudeville actor can achieve.
20 December 1913, Fort Wayne (IN) News, pg. 8, col. 5:
Here is what O. L. Hall in the Chicago Journal said of the couple briefly, but it tells the story more directly than can a column description: “Pierce and Roslyn, singers and otherwise musicians stop the show.”
21 May 1914, Logansport (IN) Pharos-Reporter, pg. 7:
The Chicago Examiner in reviewing their act recently, said: “Johnston, Howard & Lisetette, the ‘Three Dusty Roads,’ appearing at the Majestic theatre, is the most laughable act ever seen in this city. Their comedy is new. There isn’t an act anywhere in the world that even compares with it. Their acrobatic work is most amusing, their travesty is great, their burlesque tango couldn’t be imrpoved, and when they work on the double horizontal bars, their screamingly funny antics will stop any show in the country.”
27 February 1916, Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune, “‘Kocking ‘em out of their seats’ in Vaudeville” by Oney Fred Sweet, pg. D4:
Your act may be “a hit,” or it may be a “riot,” or you may “stop the show.”
9 April 1917, Fort Wayne (IN) Journal-Gazette, pg. 6, col. 1 ad:
MONSTER EASTER BILL
Sure First Show Stopper
The Blue Streak of Vaudeville
22 November 1919, Oregonian (Portland, OR), pg. 3:
In Broadway’s list of popular headliners Mr. Ball is close to the top and he is noted for the grace and good feeling with which he responds to encores, the applause won by his ballads putting him in the “show-stopper” class.
29 February 1920, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 28, col. 2:
Meanwhile his audience is writhing in paroxysms of merriment. Lot of fun in this boy. He’s of the “show-stopper” type.
8 January 1923, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. 4, col. 1:
The people are all clever but the sketch is inadequate. With a better vehicle they would have a show-stopper.
8 May 1923, Hornell (NY) Evening Tribune-Times, pg. 4, col. 4:
If you have never heard Will Rogers, cow-puncher, movie-actor, show-stopper, columnist and after-dinner speaker, here’s your chance on a new Victor Record.
New York City • Music/Dance/Theater • (0) Comments • Monday, September 14, 2009 • Permalink