Improv - The Rock Opera

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

06/05/2008 - 10/05/2008

NZ International Comedy Festival 2007-09, 2013

Production Details


In 2007 The Improvisors tried one of their most demanding productions – a full length totally improvised musical "IMPROV – THE MUSICAL". It performed to sell-out houses for a week at Circa Theatre and was one of the biggest success stories in The Improvisors’ 18 year history. "We had a blast doing the show," says Artistic Director Greg Ellis. "For lots of people in the company improvised music was a bit scary at first. But it really gave the show a fantastic energy and everyone was real proud of the final result." So proud, that the cast of The Improvisors was keen to try another musical show in 2008.

But this time they wanted something with a bit of bite. So the genteel stylings of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Rice and Lloyd-Webber were thrown aside for a bit of rock. For "IMPROV – THE ROCK OPERA" The Improvisors are letting their hair down and pulling out the power chords. "We have such a fantastic group of musicians who perform with the company," says Ellis, "That we wanted to give them a chance to go hard and play loud." And so the company has turned to "Hair", "Tommy", "Quadrophenia" and "We Will Rock You" for imspiration.

As with "IMPROV – THE MUSICAL" the audience will provide the backbone of the story by giving the performers suggestions before each show. Last year suggestions saw a musical set in the circus, the Mumbai film industry and an ice-cream factory taken over by aliens. So the challenge is on for the audience to push this year’s show to even greater heights.

Dates: Tues 6 – Sat 10 May, 7.30pm
Venue: Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St
Tickets: Adults $18 / Conc. $15 / Groups 10+ $13 (service fees may apply)
Bookings: Circa Theatre 801 7992
Show Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes

1hr 30 mins

Virtually guaranteed entertainment. They rock

Review by John Smythe 07th May 2008

The indefatigable Improvisors are back in stunning form with Improv – The Rock Opera, following last year’s memorable Improv – The Musical.  A blend of old hands and new blood exemplify the qualities of intelligent listening, positive responding, creative inspiration, adding value and team work as they pursue their quest to group-devise an instant Rock Opera with audience-offered elements as their inspiration.

We are asked whether we want it set in the past, present or future, and to nominate a place, an ambition, an object and a problem/ obstacle/ impediment (that has to be overcome to achieve the required happy ending).  At a cursory glance it may look like ‘colour-by-numbers’ story-making but it takes exceptional entertainment skills, judgement and an ability to free oneself of ego to produce such results as The Improvisors achieve in long-form storytelling.

Add to that the extra challenge of improvising Rock Opera songs live before our very eyes – with choruses established and backing vocals added by those not leading a given song … This team is nothing short of phenomenal: Greg Ellis, Aaron Alexander, Deana Elvins, Richard Falkner, Ian Harcourt, Gareth Ruck, Jessica Manins, Brad Zimmerman, Nik Jarvie-Waldrom. 

Musicians Robbie Ellis and Jeff Abbot are extremely adept of sensing ‘cue for song’ and picking the right genre/pitch/rhythm with which to make their ‘offers’, to be picked up lyrically by the actors – always rhyming because it gets funnier that way.

There’s a brief interval after 45-50 minutes after which, to make it even more challenging and interesting, the musos ask us for two song genres they have to include in the final half hour. We asked for Queer Core (recourse to Google would have helped there) and Kapa Haka.

So – to backtrack – we got a show set in a 1935 Raetihi school involving a lapsed lion tamer, a banana and a love story between an illiterate delinquent and an English immigrant wannabe Carnie. There were plots and subplots; everything set up was paid off, and the songs were variously toe-tapping, witty and moving; sometimes all at once. She was incarcerated in a Rotorua Internment Camp for alien English people, the circus skills required to get her out were also to be the saviour of the school (threatened with closure in the Depression unless they got more pupils). The highlight came with the infusion of Kapa Haka in the liberation scene.

Oh, and the lion tamer mum dies tragically in the process, provoking the sad song ‘Every time a bearded lady dies another angel in heaven gets its wings …’ Not a dry seat in the house. But of course by the time you read this, a completely different show will have been conjured up only to disappear into the mists of ephemera we call the live theatre experience. Their work indeed is writ in water. [Those who go on other nights, please let us know what transpires for you.]

I could quibble about the odd rejected offer (a fantail that could have been the delinquent’s only friend), anachronisms (did adolescents "hit on each other" in 1935? Was rock ‘n’ roll even invented then? But hey, there’ve been Biblical rock operas …), and of course my favourite gripe, the insidious intrusion of American vowels when singing, despite the quintessential Kiwi setting.

But honestly, if a devising company evolved an idea to this point in a week, let alone 90 minutes, they’d have every right to be proud of themselves. And they’d have rich material to work up into something enduring.

Meanwhile in improve land, The Improvisors’ attention to the principles of audience involvement, setup and pay-off, character / relationship development and infallible dramatic structure within the Rock Opera genre virtually guarantees all the key elements of good entertainment.

What else can I say? They rock.


Aaron Alexander May 9th, 2008

"[Those who go on other nights, please let us know what transpires for you.] " For folks who are interested, and Facebook savvy, keyboard maestro Robbie is also turning his hand to writing a comprehensive plot summary post-each show here: . Also dodgy recordings of our dodgy rock numbers on this page : (bottom right). Thanks, and remember; rock 'n' roll ain't noise pollution. Rock 'n' roll ain't gonna die.

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