Improv the Musical

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

10/05/2007 - 15/05/2007

NZ International Comedy Festival 2007-09, 2013

Production Details



After 17 years of professional Improv this is The Improvisors most daring show – the premiere of their first full-length totally improvised musical! Taking on greats like Lloyd-Webber, Rogers & Hammerstein and Gilbert & Sullivan a cast of courageous comedians improvise, sing and (possibly) dance their way through a new musical every night that has never been seen before and (thankfully) will never be seen again.

The show is the product of weeks of intensive training in song, perhaps dance and definitely Broadway cheese and The Improvisors hope to cram into the small space of Circa 2 the kind of spectacle that can normally only be produced by a cast of hundreds in a Broadway or West End Theatre.  To make sure this happens The Improvisors has enlisted the help of their usual band of musical collaborators: Steve Gallagher – multiple Chapman Tripp Award winner and member of bands such as Rhombus, Stellar and Dead End Beat, John Kingston – the presiding genius behind Wellington’s favourite band The Hairy Lollies and Luke Di Somma, recently returned from acting as musical director for Christchurch Operatic’s production of “Rent”. So the musical credentials are top draw – will the cast be up to the mark?

Much of the answer to that question lies with the audience. They truly call the tune in Improv – The Musical. Suggestions from the audience will form the core of the story and provide the extra challenges to the actors – as if singing and dancing was not enough!

And the company has a bold plan to record the shows and release a cast recording album. After all its what they do with the big shows – so why not.

Get along to Improv – The Musical.

Dates:  Thur 10 – Sat 12 & Mon 14 – Tue 15 May, 7.30pm
Venue:  Circa 2, 1 Taranaki St, Wellington City
Tickets:  Adults $18 Conc. $14
Bookings:  Circa 04 801 7992
Show Duration:  2 hours

Greg Ellis
Steve Wrigley
Abby Marment
Aaron Alexander
Nic Gorman
Deana Elvins
Ian Harcourt
Kenny King

keyboard musicians – Steve Gallagher and Luke Di Somma

Theatre , Musical ,

You call the tune

Review by Kate Blackhurst 17th May 2007

IMPROVISATION is never easy, and relies largely on audience participation. This was evidenced last night as the barely half-full theatre didn’t manage to encourage a stellar performance from the cast of The Improvisers.

With no script or score to work from, the cast of nine actors and two musicians bravely tried to create a musical based on suggestions from the audience. Musical theatre is a much maligned genre and is very difficult to do, as the cast and audience alike soon discovered. There was not much singing in this particular version, possibly because some of the cast really couldn’t sing very well. There were greatly varying abilities on show, and although there were some excellent dancing and singing moments, there was also a lot of standing about not really knowing what to do.

The cast, who were on the stage for the entire show (approx 1 1/2 hours plus an interval), generally worked very well together. The musicians were superb at spotting the timing and guessing in which direction the actors were heading. When they occasionally interrupted each other, they passed it off with ironic comments and knowing laughs. They interpreted many of the quirks of musicals: the unheard aside; the montage; the lone hero battling with his inner demons, and were not afraid to mock themselves along with everything else. Apparently for many people getting up on stage and singing in public are the two greatest fears. The members of this cast handled the challenge with aplomb, and were not afraid to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the performance.

Although there were some gags about social and political issues that could be made to fit any framework, the story and the style of the show are based on suggestions from the audience. This night’s rendition of an operatic number about chocolate was a highlight, although every show will be different, encouraging repeat visits. The idea is that ‘You call the tune’, which passes some responsibility back to the audience. I would recommend you go and see the show, get involved, and don’t be afraid to show the cast you’re having fun. That will increase the enjoyment for everyone involved.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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A small miracle of creative achievement

Review by John Smythe 11th May 2007

A debate has been raging on this site’s ‘Who Owns Devised Work?’ forum, where strong voices denounce the very notion of devising. Add to that the popular myth that Kiwi musicals never work, and you might well ask, "Why would I want to see Improv the Musical?" 

Answer: because, if this debut effort is anything to go by, it is a brilliant concept superbly executed by The Improvisors; an extraordinarily gifted team (with 17 years of experience behind them). Of course the actual show will be entirely different every night, but the way it is set up, worked through and paid off, according to core Theatresports principles, it is almost guaranteed to deliver an entertaining 90-odd minutes.

Of course a huge part of the entertainment factor comes from knowing it is being made up on the spot and we have to keep reminding ourselves that if the same show was presented as written and rehearsed, our expectations would be entirely different at every level. But just because it’s a disposable musical to go, that doesn’t make it unfit for the purpose, which is to entertain by reflecting our world back to us through inspired improv with a topical, satirical edge.

Inevitably the music itself is generic and samey – although the same could be said of a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music, which is arguably an advantage because it becomes relatively easy to make any exploration of inner feeling and mental anguish sound like the real thing. What is great to behold is the way two keyboard musicians – Steve Gallagher and Luke Di Somma this time out – work together to pick up offers from the stage or make offers themselves when they hear what could be the cue for a song.

There were times this night when whole scenes played out without song and it seemed a chance had been missed. But the way the starting points offered from the audience provoked characters, plots and themes that evolved with extraordinary cohesion into a truly dramatic structure … It stands as a valuable lesson to any playwright or librettist, let alone a devising group.

A place of work, an ambition and a temptation one is trying to avoid are given by the audience. Thus we were treated, for one night only, with a musical set in The Beehive where Christian Morals Party member for Mosgiel, Simon Palmer (Greg Ellis) succumbs to chocolate gateau laced by Tory Bastard member Bert (Steve Wrigley) – whose master plan is to abolish the 5+ healthy eating plan and make chocolate eating compulsory – and he (Simon) liberates himself by answering the prayer of strip club owner Cinnamon (Abby Marment), who needs something different winding around her poles.

Meanwhile Press Gallery journalist Tim Jones (Aaron Alexander) is desperate to find the scoop that will make his by-line a household name. And he does. And despite his egotistical ambitions, while the rest of the country is succumbing to chocolate, it is he who remains focussed enough to save the day because he is lactose intolerant and can’t eat chocolate.

The pathos is largely provided by Simon’s private secretary and Morals Party hack (Nic Gorman) who returns disillusioned to the family fold in the deep south, where his loyal wife (Deana Elvins) and their vast tribe of roundly disciplined children (the ensemble) nurse his wounded sensibilities. His elevation, Simon’s redemption and Tim’s heroic success combine with Bert’s come-uppance to bring the show to a suitable climax.

Ian Harcourt has played a deliciously malevolent Spin Doctor, and Kenny King a sceptical newspaper editor and the whole ensemble has leapt with alacrity at every opportunity to flesh scenes out as Beehive workers, strippers, Mosgiel children and general Chorus, adding vocal and visual depth and texture, not least through interpretative dance. Magic.

They have taken a short break about half way through to clarify what they’ve established and strategise to ensure it will all add up to something, but what continues to make it all so much more than the sum is the selfless teamwork, the listening and responding, that drives their collective journey to a destination they have never been to before and will never arrive at again.  

The only danger is that they may do it all so well that we start to see it as the real deal, as something that could make the grade as full scale production … Nah. It is what it is in the moment, and as such it is a small miracle of creative achievement. Not to be missed.


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