AT&T Performing Arts Center
Director – Piero Procaccini
Music Director – Nick Gage
Stage Manager – Fernando Alvarez, Jr.
Featuring – Lisa Barber, Jo Feldman, Rachel LaForce, Chucho Perez, Nick Rees, and Adam Schreck
Reviewed Performance 11/14/2014
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Chris Farley, Mike Myers, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey . . . a short list of Saturday Night Live alumni, right? But then add such names as Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, Robert Klein, Harold Ramis, Martin Short, John Candy, Bonnie Hunt, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, or Jane Lynch, and you’ve only scratched the surface of the people touched by the golden hand of The Second City. I can confidently say there is hardly a comedian of stage, TV and film from the second half of the 20th century that hasn’t been trained by or worked with Second City. Even Halle Barry studied at their training center. The list simply goes on and on.
The Second City’s humble beginning was as a small cabaret theatre in 1959 Chicago, quickly developing itself as the originator of how most comedy is created and performed today. SC’s predecessor was The Compass Players, two of its alumni, the team of Elaine May and Mike Nichols (now of film direction fame), becoming a Broadway sensation in the 60’s – I covet having one of their original comedy albums. Quickly, Second City established itself a comedic force and started the careers of Arkin, Klein, David Steinberg and Fred Willard.
Soon after, Second City started performing in Canada, with Second City Toronto opening in 1973. This led to the great comedy sketch TV series SCTV, bringing us comedians like Short, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Candy, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas, Joe Flaherty and Rick Moranis. Both venues were the gateway to perform with Saturday Night Live, introducing us to some of the best and brightest comedians of my generation and those to come. Later on came a NBC series, the opening of the largest improvisation and action training center in the U.S., debuts internationally, and numerous nominations and awards, including two Emmys.
In order to reach even more audiences and increase their talent, Second City officially began touring nationally in 1967. Currently there are fourteen touring shows to choose from, with at least three 55th Anniversary Tours running simultaneously, including one landing in Dallas this weekend.
Some might recall two years ago when Dallas Theater Center asked Second City to town for what became an extended run, with Texas-sized jabs at Dallas culture, politics, and citizens. Apparently, some of the parody raised hairs and rankled the sensibilities of the well-quaffed and well-to-do. And while I can’t see Second City ever holding back, either they are playing it safe this time around, or performing generic humor, good for any city. The sketches, while funny and entertaining, hold none of the more biting, tongue in cheek comedy I believe the audience came to see.
Music Director Nick Gage plays piano, adds his voice, and runs the sound from the side of the stage. The preshow, between sketches, and intermission music is good ‘ol baby boomer rock and roll. Other than the piano, six chairs, black wings and a back curtain, the stage is empty.
The legendary comedians named above are part of Second City’s glorious past, and the six members of this particular touring troupe are its present and future. Each is well trained, talented and commands the audience’s attention most of the time. Completely different physically, it allows them to play a wide variety of characters. Both Jo Feldman and Lisa Barber play mainly the younger roles, Adam Schreck the more sophisticated, urban characters, Chocho Pérez gets the Neanderthal or louder characterizations, Rachel LaForce tackles the teacher, authority figures with her deep, booming voice, and Nick Rees plays all the rest, as well as being the narrator of sorts for the evening.
Sketches interchange between15-30 second quickies to ones lasting several minutes. For me, the fast ones hold more power, more punch. Audience shout outs are invited from the cast, and two involuntary members have their moment in the spotlight while assisting in a sketch. Each will be different of course, but I must say that Joel really got into his character in the gay marriage sketch.
The sketches cover a wide range of current topics – society, politics, homophobia, religion, sports, gluten-free diets, car jackings, gun laws and gay rights. Being an anniversary tour, they bring back three sketches from past shows. First is one from the first year, 1959, in which a teenage girl tries to build her confidence while responding to an instruction record. This particular sketch is poignant, humorous, and on the same comedic level as Mike Nichols and Elaine May, or the throwback humor of Andy Kaufman.
Another classic piece is from 1997, bringing back a bit of Michael Jackson, this time in the form of a teenage girl, donning a single silver glove and pulled down fedora, attempting to find her uniqueness amidst two embarrassing parents. This one screams Jane Curtain, Bill Murray and Lorraine Newman from SNL.
The third, and my favorite, is from 2006 during the first Iraq war, and more the type of searing humor I was looking for. An elderly woman, played by Rachel LaForce, comes to enlist at a recruitment center, and is given all the reasons why she cannot by the soldier on duty, played by Nick Rees. The laughs come with all her ideas why she’d be an asset, but then the truth of her insistence is revealed, the laughter turns to heart-wrenching silence, and the sketch becomes painfully real. In true SC fashion, the sketch uses a rimshot/cymbal ending one-liner and black out. The writing and deliverance by LaForce and Rees is funny, biting and the best sketch of the evening.
The Second City’s 55th Anniversary Tour is a wonderful way to see live comedy. The acting and improvisation is first rate, laughter comes easily, and it is a fun evening, if not as relevant or satirical as I’d have liked. All in all, more than enough reason for Dallasites to brave what we think is cold weather, go out and simply have a good time.
THE SECOND CITY 55TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR
AT&T Performing Arts Center
Dallas City Performance Hall
2520 Flora Street
Dallas, TX 75201
****LIMITED RUN THROUGH THIS SATURDAY, NOV. 15TH
Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm
Tickets are $45.00 - $50.00.
To purchase tickets, go to www.attpac.org or call the AT&T box office at 214-880-0202.