I found myself in Provo, Utah, on Monday, and I went to see a performance by the Thrillionaires, an improv group started last year by some of my friends. It was the second show of theirs I’d seen, and I continue to be astounded at their level of talent.
It’s not just improv comedy, you see. Most of the performers are ComedySportz veterans, or alumni of other comic organizations, and they’ve mastered the improvisation skills. With the Thrillionaires, they take it to another level.
Usually the first half of the show is a 40-minute improvised play in a particular style. Past themes have included Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, and film noir. This week it was John Steinbeck: dusty, impoverished people working on ranches in the 1930s, that sort of thing. The Thrillionaires’ on-the-spot creation was hilarious, multi-layered, and even a little touching.
In the second half of the show, they often do a musical. Improvising a musical is hard enough, and they tend to make it even more rigorous on themselves by maintaining the style from the show’s first half. Since I was there, and since I used to accompany many of these performers in their ComedySportz days, they asked if I wanted to improvise the music for them for this show. I did it, and they were brilliant, and not because of anything I did.
They told the audience that they wanted to do a John Steinbeck-ish musical, which put them in the mind of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” i.e., the Depression-era South. They noted that “O Brother” was loosely based on “The Odyssey,” and asked which epic story they should base their Steinbeck musical on. An audience member suggested “Star Wars.” And thus the plot of “Star Wars” was retold, a) as a musical and b) set in the South in the 1930s.
The droids were itinerant workers named Cecil and Artie. An evil developer named Garth (who suffered from asthma) was holding a pretty girl hostage and creating a giant tractor that would destroy the neighboring farms. Rugged Hank Solitaire and his sidekick, a filthy hillbilly named Cheryl who spoke in a gibberish only he could understand, helped an orphaned kid rescue the girl. It’s mildly clever when I describe it. When it’s being created off the cuff right before your eyes, it’s genius.
Anyway, I don’t like to gush. Several of these folks are my friends, and I think they’re funny in real life, too, but it’s not my personal affection for them coloring my opinion of the Thrillionaires. They’re a genuinely entertaining troupe. If you’re in the Provo area on a Monday, go check them out. They perform at the Velour Live Music Gallery, 135 N. University Ave., once a month during the summer (June 25 is the next show), weekly the rest of the year.
Check out their MySpace page for more info. Also, here’s a fun little commercial featuring clips from past shows.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBMnmJBeDUg]