NAPLES — From snake charmers to ice cream musicals to hip-hop comedy and one singularly gigantic plumber’s crack, the Chicago City Limits improv group kept the Naples Philharmonic’s Daniels Pavilion crowd in stitches Wednesday night.
The troupe, based in New York (that introductory quip snares the night’s first chuckle), takes any number of audience suggestions — words, phrases, song titles — and weaves them into all manner of rib-tickling comedy: A funny thing happened on the way to the Philharmonic, and this crew is determined to keep the laughter flowing.
Chicago City Limits was founded in Chicago in 1977, but moved to New York in 1979. The group now has its own theater with a permanent cast and shows five nights a week while at least three touring companies criss-cross the country performing shows with eminently catchy titles such as “One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State” or “MySpace or Yours?”
The most amusing routines allow the cast to take a suggestion or three from the audience and embroider it. A shouted song title — “My Funny Valentine” — is played out first as an awkward date, rewound (complete with actors reversing all their movements) then run again as a Shakespearean play, again in the style of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, yet again as a Bollywood musical and finally as a blinged-out hip-hopera.
A simple tale from an audience member — a couple walking in the mall drops an ice cream cone — turns into a four-act comic musical with such Sondheim-esque songs as “Lick, Lick, Lick” and “Here We Sell Happiness,” about the joys of ice cream. When the giggles subside, consider that the entire creation — from lyrics to Matthew Loren Cohen’s brilliant piano music — is conceived and executed on the fly. A separate holiday-themed sequence that winds up set at a Hooter’s restaurant — with the predictably risqué results — switches randomly between spoken and sung dialogue and serves up some gut-busting laughter.
The night’s only misfire is a mock “Jeopardy” setup that depends heavily on the crowd to provide categories and then “answers” to questions. The segment isn’t dull, but the cast can’t work comedy magic if the audience insists on tossing out less-than-inspired prompts. Cracks show in a few other places as well, with stutters and a few outright flubs, but the balance of the comedy is lightning fast, inventive and marvelously well-delivered.
The 90-minute, seven-part show whips by at an impressive pace. There are no bad parts, although improv works best with vigorous audience participation — and the routines that rely heavily on suggestions from the crowd tend to suffer slightly when confronted with Southwest Florida’s mature demographics. Keep that in mind, each night is going to be totally different — so go into the show ready to yell out the first thing that comes to mind and give the performers a chance to stretch their creative muscles. If you need a little liquid encouragement, there’s a cash bar in the corner.
The overall show itself is well-conceived and smoothly executed. Given the barest of bones to work with, the cast proves more than able to tickle every funny bone in the room and a few rib cages beside.