Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

15/05/2012 - 19/05/2012

BATS Theatre, Wellington

08/04/2012 - 12/05/2012

Mayfair Festival Club, 67-73 Devon St West, New Plymouth

22/08/2013 - 23/08/2013

NZ Fringe Festival 2012

NZ International Comedy Festival 2012

Taranaki International Arts Festival 2013

Production Details

One Man, One Band, One Hour. 

When Greg Ellis takes to the stage as Vance Fontaine in this year’s NZ International Comedy Festival he will have no idea what to expect next. Completely at the mercy of the audience and a four piece band he will tell the story of one forgotten Kiwi Music legend and sing the songs he has left as his legacy. For the first time in New Zealand one performer, accompanied by a live band, will create a solo improvised musical comedy show. That sounds like a lot of adjectives for a single show but COMMAND PERFORMANCE promises something unlike anything comedy audiences in New Zealand have ever seen, or heard.

COMMAND PERFORMANCE is the story of Vance Fontaine, 70s and 80s lounge singer, raconteur and man of the world. While the rest of New Zealand talks about John Rowles, Sir Howard Morrison, even Ray Woolf, Vance Fontaine remains underappreciated in Kiwi music circles – maybe because he is entirely fictitious. Greg Ellis hopes to remedy that (all except the fictitiousness part) with a show that sees the audience ask Vance for the stories that have shaped him as a man and an artiste. These stories have all influenced Vance’s music and each story will lead into a song, improvised entirely on the spot by both Ellis and band.

COMMAND PERFORMANCE sees 22 year improvised comedy veteran, Wellingtonian Greg Ellis, team up with local musicians to create a completely unscripted cabaret style performance where the music plays as big a part as the gags in between. “I want this show to be more than just short improv games,” says Ellis. “This will feel like going to an intimate cabaret show with songs as well as stories that will change each and every night, a key challenge will be seamlessly integrating the audiences role, I want to step away from the stop and start nature of traditional improv ask fors and weave it into the banter that is typical of this style of music show.”

The show is a recipient of a grant from the Creative Comedy Initiative – a NZ Comedy Trust grant that encourages innovative work that involves collaboration between comedians and other arts practitioners. In this case Greg Ellis teams up with musical director Tane Upjohn-Beatson and a band of crack improvising musicians. One of last year’s recipients Steve Wrigley is the producer of COMMAND PERFORMANCE.

“To witness Ellis’ ability to create a complete show from start to finish is a truly hilarious and unique experience, I learned almost everything I know about comedy from Greg, He’s brilliant. This show is going to be a stand out performance in the festival. It will not just push the limits of what great Improv can be; it will set a very high bar for all the other acts in the festival, including, of course, myself.” – Steve Wrigley

As part of the NZ International Comedy Festival 2012


Dates:  Tues 8 – Sat 12 May 2012, 6:30pm
Venue:  BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, City
Tickets:  Adults $20, Conc. $16, Groups 8+ $16
Bookings:  04 802 4175,  

Date: 15 May –  Sat 19 May 2012, 8:30pm
Venue: The Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, City
Tickets:  Adults $20, Conc. $16, Group 8+ $16
Bookings:  0800 842 538 or  

Duration: 1 hour

For a full line up of performances, booking details & more information, visit 


Thurs 22 Aug, 8pm
Fri 23 Aug, 7pm

Mayfair Festival Club

80 minutes including interval

ADMISSION service fees apply
General Admission $39
Premium $45
Premium Friend $39

Buy tickets now here

Vance Fontaine: Greg Ellis

His Peculiar Sensations:
Drums        L. Ron Beattie   played by Thomas P. McGrath
Bass          John Doe            played by Matiu Whiting
Guitar        Tony Fork           played by Tane Upjohn-Beatson
Keyboard   Errol Flanagan   played by Takumi Motokawa

Dramaturg/outside eye:  Tim Spite
Musical Director:  Tane Upjohn-Beatson
Lights:  Darryn Woods
Set:  Greg Ellis

Amazing talents

Review by Ngaire Riley 23rd Aug 2013

If I had chosen just on the photo in the Festival Book, I would not have gone to Vance Fontaine’s Command Performance. The lamb-chop side burns, white suit and 50s microphone put me off. Fortunately the words ‘comedy music’ and ‘Greg Ellis’ struck a chord. I needed cheering up and I had seen Ellis as an Improviser, using slight of word and slip of knowledge to delight and beguile. So I went.

The show begins with a band called The Peculiar Sensations. They look delicious; smart suits with a twist. The drummer, L Ron Beattie (Thomas McGrath), adds shorts and a sailor hat to his jacket; John Doe (Matiu Whiting) is in skin beneath his hat, waistcoat and suit trousers. He plays double bass and bass guitar. The quartet is completed by Tony Fork (Tane Upjohn-Beatson), guitarist and musical director, and Errol Flanagan (Takumi Motokawa) on keys.

Their music sounds… great. I am already happy watching the watching that goes on between live musicians making exciting, energetic music.

Then Vance arrives. We quickly realise that his dated physical appearance of glittery hair and sparkly shirt beneath a cream baggy suit, belies the creative skill of his mind, talent and knowledge. He immediately identifies a Mrs Burnside in the audience and elicits that the man she arrived with is a budding mayoral candidate in an orange tie. All these elements become part of a song about his thwarted love for her and his wish to still ‘tick her box’ and for her to be ‘first past my post’.

This is Ellis’ talent; to take any suggestion from the audience and tie associated images to it in song, in this show. He is a New Zealand ‘Whose Line is it anyway?’ virtuoso.  

Ellis has a magpie mind. No matter what word the audience throws at him, he can pull out and weave an eclectic collection of pertinent details. My audience sends him to Uzbekistan. Now I happen to have been there. It’s a country that sits above Pakistan, between Kirgizstan and Turkmenistan, on one of the most northerly ancient Silk Road routes. The magical town of Samarkand is there. Will he know where it is? He certainly does and creates a song about a cow “sitting in a field / Hoping he’d got a good milk solid yield.”

The other head-shakingly amazing talent of Greg and his team is their ability to sing and perform in any genre of music. Tonight Vance performs a medley of his Greatest Hits with the band that includes ska, techno, gospel and opera, with an encore of a west coast number about waste management (the mayoral candidate again), in hip hop. This formula is great fun.

The one sour note of the evening is the ear-throbbing volume of music and song and the occasional hum of feedback. This is not a teenage head-banging audience, even though some of the musical genre might be.

We leave the theatre with a clever song about, incredibly, appendicitis, ringing in our ears.


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A commanding performance

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 10th May 2012

Early evening [at Bats] is Greg Ellis in his brilliant new one man show Vance Fontaine – Command Performance

Ellis’ years of working with Theatresports and The Improvisors coupled with a number of previously successful stand alone shows, provides him with a wealth of experience to draw on and it shows.  Confident and totally at ease with his audience, his formula for this show is simple. 

He grew up in a place in NZ suggested by the audience, then left NZ due to a personal crisis suggested by the audience and ended up in a country overseas suggested by the audience. And so it goes on with Ellis cleverly creating witty and often very funny repartee with the audience around whatever they like to throw at him.  And he never misses a beat, expertly improvising one story after another with incredible dexterity. 

But the highlight of the show is the interaction of songs with the stories, the lyrics all improvised to styles suggested by the audience.  R and B, Country and Western, Dub Step, Musical Theatre, Rap and more are all expertly conveyed by the Peculiar Sensations, his 4 piece backing band of L Ron Beattie on drums, John Doe on bass, Tony Fork on guitar and Errol Flanagan on keyboard who are all as adept at improvising the music as Ellis is the lyrics, making this a most memorable evening’s entertainment.


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I'd have bought the CD if it had been on sale

Review by John Smythe 09th May 2012

The genius of Greg Ellis is fully proved in this show. Who knew he was a fabulous singer alongside all his other skills? 

An early adopter, and a long-standing mainstay, of The Improvisors, he is a veritable compendium of general knowledge including, but not at all limited to, pop culture (he could have been a formidable Mastermind contestant back in the day – and if so, I’d love to know what his Special Subject would have been).

It’s his ability to hook into world history and geography, draw science and literature into the mix, and add a strong sense of socio-political awareness to the improvised scenarios, that makes him extra special in my experience. 

Having played in many ensemble improv shows – for adults, children and corporate events – he branched out into solo improv with Holmes Alone two years ago, then Snake Oil last year. Impressive shows both, evolving as-always from audience offers, the magic of instant group-creation is necessarily absent from those formats, except for the back-up contributions of a solo musician and the lighting operator.

Vance Fontaine in Command Performance reinstates the ensemble factor with a musical quartet known as His Peculiar Sensations, led by guitarist Tony Fork (Tane Upjohn-Beatson, who is also the show’s musical director). He is joined by Errol Flanagan (Takumi Motokawa) on Keys, L Ron Beattie (Thomas P. McGrath) on drums, and John Doe (Matiu Whiting) on drums.

Together they create a full set of never-before-heard and never-to-be-heard-again old favourites from the wide-ranging, genre-rich career of liquorice-larynxed lounge-singer Vance Fontaine.

You have to be of a certain age to remember Vance Fontaine, or maybe your parents, uncles or aunties will have spoken of him. Had it not been for certain events – which audience members will remind him of at each performance – he could have been a worthy successor to Sir Howard Morrison, John Rowles and Ray Woolf; internationally he could have been New Zealand’s answer to Bobby Darrin, Wayne Newton and Barry Manilow.  

So what happened? Each audience will contribute/discover where he grew up, who broke his heart, where he went, what he did while taking a break from song-writing and singing, how he made his comeback … Those who read and recall the famous Rolling Stone interview will be able to prompt his memory on all sorts of details.

All this prompts instantly created renditions of hits from his back catalogue and comes together to reveal a comprehensive life story. Everything discovered along the way is stitched back in – or was on opening night – to create an immensely satisfying whole.

The alchemy involved in evolving the music for each number is so easily taken for granted that one has to think it through quite objectively to realise what a mind-blowing achievement it is. Darryn Woods’ lighting adds to the moods, of course, and brings the right blaze to the many climaxes.

Initially I fear the rhyming couple lyrics – redolent of many a group-improvised song in countless other shows – will limit us to the narrative ballad with a recurring chorus and big finish but as the emotional content kicks in, and time and place suggest different genres and styles, variety spices it up no end.

What better compliment can I pay than to say if a CD of last night’s show had been available in the foyer as we left, I would have bought it. I’m certainly tempted to go again just to check that it wasn’t a fluke; to see and hear what other parallel lives Vance Fontaine will turn out to have led and made music from.

While it’s a delight to see Vance Fontaine in Command Performance in the intimacy of Bats – and perfectly pitched sound-wise, too – I can envisage this show in big venues as well. It deserves to travel, not just in NZ but overseas too. Vance Fontaine is ready to embrace the stellar career fate has so cruelly denied him up until now.  


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