Second City 50th Anniversary, the Second City Alumni One Night Only: Live Review
With a running time pushing past 4 hours, dozens and dozens of alumni crowded the Mainstage and e.t.c for a star-studded two-act mash that brought together 50 years of great sketch material and some of the biggest names in comedy last night at the Second City. For the record, the review below is just a partial list from the marathon show.
Where to begin? For starters, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Mike Meyers and Dan Aykroyd were noticeably absent, but just about everyone else was there. The current Mainstage ensemble kicked off the night with the best sketch from its current revue, Taming of the Flu, in which two Eisenhower-era couples predict the failure of a newly opened comedy club, the Second City. This was followed by an excellent sketch from the creative team of Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello and Amy Sedaris in which two brothers, circa the Bulls' heyday, dream of facing off against the Knicks. Colbert still has his improv chops. When he accidentally pulled down the hoop while making a slam dunk, he slyly called out, "foul play by the Knicks." But this tender scene was not about basketball at all, it was about the relationship between the two brothers. The sketch was from the 1993 revue, Take Me Out to the Balkans.
In a scene from the 1979 revue I Remember Dada, alumnus George Wendt, wife Bernadette Birkett-Wendt and Tim Kazurinsky among others experience an ER meltdown. Meanwhile, in a hilarious scene from Toronto's 2006 revue Bird Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a nosy mother impersonates her son in an MSN chat room. Scenes like this one, which played on social norms, dominated the night. In one of act one's finest moments, Dave Pasquesi, Tim Meadows, Mitch Rouse and Holly Wortell play young urbanites taking a smoke break on the rooftop of their apartment building. It's a timeless piece from 1991's Flag Smoking Permitted in Lobby Only, and each ensemble member played it as if it was yesterday.
Second City legend Paul Sand had a fine solo moment in a sketch from 1967 called "Phonopal," in which he tries to form a friendship with an LP (originally voiced by Eugene Troobnick, but voiced here by Stephen Colbert). Also from the vault, Jim Belushi and son Rob re-created an excellent father-son scene from the 1978 revue Sexual Perversity Among the Buffalo. Rob shined as the college-educated son coming to terms with the father who abandoned him.
Act one closed with a funeral scene from 1972's 43rd Parallel, which reunited Harold Ramis, Joe Flaherty, Eugenie Ross-Leming and Roberta Maguire (I think) among others. It was terrific, but not as amazing as the penultimate Colbert-Steve Carell collaboration that came right before it. In one of Colbert's finest moments (FYI, the guy hasn't aged at all), he returns to his southern hometown with friend Carell in tow. But the catch is that when he's back home, the town's residents remember him as Shirley Wentworth, an elderly black woman. Ruth Rudnick, Fran Adams, Scott Allman and the amazing Dave Razowky all played the town's residents with juicy abandon.
That was act one. Act two wasn't as strong but had its highlights. It included a solo stand-up routine from legendary Compass Player Shelley Berman, an improvised monologue (of biblical proportions) from the excellent David Steinberg, a funny as hell collaboration among Dan Castellaneta, Richard Kind and Isabella Hoffman, an improvised segment with Kevin Dorff, Susan Messing, TJ Jagodowski and (a bit rusty) Betty Thomas, a couple of excellent musical numbers featuring the charming Jack McBrayer (including a phenomenal office ballet number from History Repaints Itself) and many others. Overtly political sketches were few and far between; however, a very funny number from 2007's Between Barack and a Hard Place imagines a frustrated Hillary Clinton (played by Molly Erdman) trying to hire an assassin (played by Brian Gallivan) but the hired gun is, like the rest of the country, in love with Obama. Nia Vardalos and husband Ian Gomez played immigrants in a very touching scene, and the act two finale, a classic from 1996's Paradigm Lost, has Scott Adsit, Rachel Dratch and Jenna Jolovitz discovering that a recently departed nun had a penchant for dirty ragtime records.
A couple of thoughts: A few heavily hyped players never arrived. We didn't see Alan Arkin, Bob Odenkirk or Dave Koechner, among others, although they were on the bill. Also, a Second City retrospective shows just how much white men have dominated over the years. There were very few scenes in which minorities or women were front and center. Finally, the evening ended with a speech by a rep from corporate sponsor PUMA. It was strange. Still, the Second City was the place to be last night, and the reunion show was a solid reminder of its power to churn out thought-provoking, outrageous and even touching sketch comedy and social-political satire. We can't wait for the 75th.