BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

20/09/2013 - 20/09/2013

NZ Improv Festival 2013

Production Details

New Zealand’s favourite improvised musical sensation is back but this time he’s bigger! 

Well, his band is…. 

For one show only Vance and his regular band – The Peculiar Sensations – are joined by a bunch of guests. Some of whom you’d least expect. Other festival improvisers bring their musical instruments or their voices and join friends of Vance and the band onstage.

You may have marvelled at their quick wit earlier in the festival, you may have seen them do a Shakespeare, or perform a continuous scene but now see them sing or play an instrument you never knew they could. It’s time to see these performers way out of their comfort zone in a show that takes the unpredictability of Vance Fontaine to its very limits.

With 17 shows in 5 days, the New Zealand Improv Festival is bound to tickle your tastebuds. 

This show is $10 door sales only – see you at Understudy! 

Date(s) – 20/09/2013
11:00 pm – 11:55 pm

A concept that just keeps giving and giving

Review by John Smythe 21st Sep 2013

Since Vance Fontaine in Command Performance reminded us that we’d forgotten the Lounge Lizard Legend of yesteryear, Vance – described by one critic as a “Lyrical Love Lord extraordinaire” – has, along with His Peculiar Sensations, taken the country (well, Wellington, New Plymouth and Auckland) by storm, more recently with Vance Fontaine for Lovers.  

The Vance Fontaine Big Band Happy Hour, however, is something else again. To cap the fourth day of this week’s NZ Improv Festival, Vance (Greg Ellis) has invited all participants with an instrument or voice to pitch in – and some dozen or more do just that to the delight of a highly appreciative audience. Late night on a Friday in the Bats Understudy Bar, it could well be a recipe for chaos if they were not all highly accomplished improvisers.

Tane Upjohn-Beatson, on guitar, leads His Peculiar Sensations with Kris Finnerty on keys, Matiu Whiting on bass plus backing vocals with Hannah Fraser and Anna Edgington, and Thom McGrath on drums. (I have a feeling I’ve missed out a second guitarist in this line up.)

Cleverly starting from a position where the only way is up, Vance asks for the worst thing that could happen to us today, and being struck by lightning, an earthquake and a power cut recalls their instantly created old standard, ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong?’.

‘Lack of Structure’ is the audience-nominated title for a jazz number which adds The Brass Monkeys – Robbie Ellis (trombone), Richard Faulkner (trumpet), Bryn van Vliet (saxophone) and Anton van Helden (clarinet) – to the musical mix.

Rik Brown leaps at the offer of Vance’s mic and is joined by Maggie Cargill to render a grunge song about clowns. Jeff Clark finds himself fronting an 80s power ballad about a disappointing finance person. Then Vance is back to cheer us up with a song about Candy Floss, accompanied by a couple of fiddlers.

Matt Hutton’s exquisitely eerie theremin accompanies a fear-provoked song about snakes “with venom to penetrate denim”. Jeff Clark returns to lead a blues number bemoaning a lack of sleep thanks to rain and a thunder storm.

Having asked for a sea shanty topic, Vance is challenged to create one about the America’s Cup and here Greg Ellis shows yet again his superb grasp of topical issues. Soon we are all joining in the chorus: “Haul out the cheque books boys, haul away, haul away …”

A ‘one-note-at-a-time’ song in the ‘shitty Wellington dub’ genre about Cookie Time cookies produces a surprisingly good result from the massed musos. Then the suave Matt Powell cruises up to the mic only to be hit with a punk song expressing his anger at being unable to tie his shoes – and boy does he nail it!

We are asked for something to change the pace, so I suggest a tango whereupon Vance identifies me as “the critic” and launches into ‘The Suck Up Tango’, in which he declares he agrees with everything I’ve ever written, I’m a man of impeccable taste, I should have got a Pulitzer Prize, “this is a blatant suck up”, etc – all beautifully rhymed and paced, of course. And here’s where the fatal flaw of ephemeral song-improv shows up, because I’d have liked a recording of that to support my next funding application.   

A suddenly convened Girl Group – Christine Brooks, Maggie Cargill, Jennifer O’Sullivan and Linda Calgaro – belt out a soul song about how smoking is a deal breaker with any prospective lover.

I don’t catch the premise for the rap song that sees Rik Brown (from Melbourne) and Jeff Clark (from Christchurch) face off but it culminates in a splendid Tony Abbott joke.

Too soon – but a little past midnight – Vance leads us all in an Opportunities for Animals charity song called ‘Save the Sloth’ … Sublime.

Vance Fontaine and His Peculiar Sensations is a concept that just keeps giving and giving. Book them now for your Christmas party, milestone birthday, conference dinner … (Ha: now whose sucking up?) 


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