IF YOU GO
What: Improv and comedy revue from the Chicago comedy troupe
When: 6 and 8:30 p.m.
Where: Daniels Pavilion at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts, 5833 Pelican Bay Boulevard, Naples
Information: 800-597-1900 or thephil.org
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
5833 Pelican Bay Boulevard, Naples, FL
There's a reason - a simple one - that Second City can fill an auditorium on a cold, windy evening in late March in Naples, when the sun is shining and the million distractions of a coastal resort town beckon. These guys are good. Very, very good.
The guys and gals of Second City came to play. Rapid-fire jokes ("I hate the One Percent! Fine. Buy whole milk!") mix with sketches, banging tunes, improv games, a raucous musical interlude and more. The show serves up 75 minutes of high-quality comedy, although the scripted segments do come off slightly better than the actual improv.
Second City takes its name from a New Yorker article that referred to Chicago as America's "second city." Now 50 years old, Second City boasts tours, resident companies in the Windy City, Toronto and Hollywood and an entertainment deal with Norwegian Cruise Lines.
But back in Naples, someone is asking "What do you think about this abortion bill?"
"I don't know. Pay it."
Wave of laughter.
I'm generally not a fan of improv, at least the "audience tosses suggestions" sort. Second City recognizes the difficulty of building a solid, entertaining show around some of the detritus audiences burp up on stage; they adapt. This show, directed by Anthony LeBlanc, comes with a music director (Ben Harris) and a dizzying set of effects (stage manager Jayme O'Hara).
John Hartman, Nicole C. Hastings, Adam Peacock, Pat Reidy and Emily Walker open the show in a blast of thumping dance music, chanting the rules, regulations, no cell phones and "please don't be stupid." Five actors, four chairs, lots of jokes.
Second City keeps the show moving at a pace that makes "breakneck" look like a pensioner with tennis balls on the walker bumping along. Before you've stopped laughing at one punch line (the therapist who walks out on a patient with abandonment issues), they've moved on to the next one!
At least half (if not more) of the show is outright scripted; the performers deliver the comedy in whip-crack, precision fashion that puts them equal to any comic actor. They've got silly voices, funny faces, nasal whines, ghetto hoochie mamas and bromantic bonding down pat. Blam. Setup. Punchline. Music. Blam. Again and again and again, like a funny train.
There is improv, nearly all of it done with supreme skill; years of training eliminate the "umms" and "uhs" and "hmms" that can populate other performances as actors pummel their brains for anything to say. One segment sees Hastings, Walker and Hartman produce surprisingly tuneful original songs at the drop of a hat (well, really, the clap of a hand).
My favorite skit involved no words at all. And that's how you know its good comedy. Reidy and the diminutive Hastings enter from opposite sides of the stage wearing kilts. They bow to the crowd, then to each other, like warriors. They slowly stride toward each other, solemn, grim. A Scottish dirge tinkles. The two now face each other in the center of the stage.
He picks her up … suddenly there's a piper and his bagpipes on stage. You could hear the roar over in Waterside.
Of course, there is audience participation. Claps, snapping and singing ran through the crowd to the tune of Queen's "We Will Rock You." Hastings and Walker lead a skit with two women in rocking chairs (an ingenious creation, how they do that) talking, with the conversational ball being guided by the audience.
They might be from the second city, but the comedy is first-rate.
What's your favorite thing about Chicago? I've never been. Dish on the secrets. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.