Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: The Second City’s Fast, Loud & Funny/The Second City

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Saurabh Pande, Dana Quercioli, Asher Perlman, Ryan Asher, Kevin Sciretta and Nicole C. Hastings

Pulling sketch material from various past revues, this mash-up succeeds in bringing, as the introductory voiceover promises, “speed, volume and hilarity” to weekend matinees and Tuesday nights. And though there are a number of big misses (unfortunately placed at the very start in a proposal scene at an Applebee’s and at the very end in an improvised eighties action flick that flopped hard at the show I saw), the solid hits throughout make for a delightful introduction to Second City-style comedy. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stormtrooper Stories/The Public House Theatre

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StormtrooperStories Artwork (1)


Writer-director Byron Hatfield offers a different perspective on the Star Wars saga in “Stormtrooper Stories,” a comedy about two inept troopers (Matthew Lamson and Mark Rosenthal) who just cannot catch a break. Whether it be pulling traffic duty on Tatooine or watching a fellow trooper be “magic choked” to death, these two intergalactic soldiers stumble over more territory than the Millennium Falcon. And in the process they realize that maybe, just maybe, they’re not actually the good guys. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: One Act, Primarily Nonsense and Horror of Terror/Theatre Momentum

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Photo: Darron R. Birgenheier

Photo: Darron R. Birgenheier

Theatre Momentum has launched a troika of forty-five-minute productions which all stem from their goal of creating improvised theatrical events that are more like plays than games. While all three performances are technically one-acts, one of the three is entitled “One Act.” This is the show that anchors the line-up. Under Tony Rielage’s direction, a cast of nine actors (only six of whom were performing on the evening I attended) create a series of scenes in a montage long-form-improv structure. There is no audience prompt to kick things off, which neither adds to nor detracts from the overall improvisational nature of the performance. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: My Fucking Scene Partner Didn’t Learn Their Lines/Under The Gun and The New Colony

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tim-sam-mollieIt’s hard to find a consistently good improv troupe. To gain the distinction of being good at anything requires a record of success, which is hard enough for the subjective art that is comedy without adding on the additional hurdle of creating your own content every night. Judging that art, then, is even harder, because only so much can be gained from a single exposure to the variable work.

So I’m not certain if the concept of the Under The Gun and The New Colony collaboration show “M.F.S.P.D.L.T.L.” (sorry, word limits) is a good one or a bad one for improv. Certainly, it sounds like it’s perfect: an actor from The New Colony performs half the dialogue in a scene from a New Colony play, while an Under The Gun ensemble member improvises the responses, with no idea what’s coming next. Naturally, this leads to moments of confusion, where the improv comes into direct conflict with the script. In the show I saw, the improviser introduced himself as Bob, but was immediately referred to as Todd in the next line. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dan & Kate’s Book Club/The Annoyance Theatre

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“We are bibliophiles, we know every book known to man.” So begins “Dan & Kate’s Book Club,” a Friday-night foray into literature for the ludicrous. If you are truly a bibliophile, and the idea of an improvised show based off your favorite esoteric novel appeals to you, this show will either tickle your erudite sensibilities or disappoint you until you make snarky comments about how you didn’t expect them to know that author anyway. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Night of Whodunnit/Under The Gun Theater

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Alex Wiseman, Matt Pina and Matt Fox

Under The Gun Theater is rife with catchy concepts. Their “Comedy Against Humanity” show was so popular that—despite an informal agreement—Cards Against Humanity objected, forcing the show to close just as it was really taking off. Walking into the theater Thursday night for “A Night of Whodunnit,” I noticed Cards Against Humanity packs for sale at the bar. A sign of no hard feelings, perhaps? Or a reminder that this is a theater that knows (and has proven) that they can deliver on concept work?

“Whodunnit” is actually a double-header, consisting of “One Story Told Week by Week” (a parody of the oh-so-popular NPR podcast “Serial”) and “The Improvised Adventures of Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson” (self-explanatory), in that order. The sources may differ but the theme is the same. To quote R. Kelly: “There’s a mystery going on and I’m gonna solve it.” Both shows last thirty minutes with a ten-minute intermission in between. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: VAMP: A Music Comedy Drinking Show/MCL Chicago

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Michael Shepherd Jordan and Alex Garday


Walking into the MCL Chicago space for “VAMP: A Music Comedy Drinking Show” is like walking into a raucous house party that’s just getting started. A four-piece band (Doc McCullough & The Vampers) plays frenetic jams while audience members mill around chatting and sipping from their various BYOB selections. And once the show gets started, under the direction of endearingly wry host Keenan Camp, it’s not that different from a house party itself. In fact, “VAMP,” as a whole, feels like a loosely organized, low-pressure showcase by a group of popular, talented, semi-intoxicated improvisers in a friend’s basement, with all the pros and cons associated with that scenario. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Buzzed Broadway/MCL Chicago

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Steven Lyons and Alexander Smith Photo: Heather Scholl Photography

Steven Lyons and Alexander Smith/Photo: Heather Scholl Photography

Improv is a skill. Being able to successfully improvise a storyline to music while drinking is an even greater skill. That’s the challenge the cast of “Buzzed Broadway” takes on during each performance at MCL Chicago.

Watching “Buzzed Broadway” is kind of like watching a group of drunk musical theater students at a party: it might be funny if you’re participating—and drinking along with the cast is encouraged—but if you’re sober, you’ll notice that the story doesn’t always make sense and the singing isn’t always in key. Still, it’s good for a few laughs here and there. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: ComedySportz/ComedySportz Theatre

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Meg Grunewald (referee) and player Alex Garday (in red)/Photo: James Rand


A brand since 1984, in Chicago since 1987 and in their current digs on Belmont since 2007, ComedySportz has clearly hit on a winning formula, proudly maintaining the title of longest-running short-form-improv comedy show in Chicago and extending that run every week. And short form it is, with quick, fast-paced games (most familiar to anyone with a little exposure to improv) making up the majority of the ninety-minute running time, which plays out as a competition between a blue home team (the Chicago Bosses) and a red visiting team (the Lyle Lovetts on the night I attended).

The lovely hardwood stage looks like a cross between a locker room, a performance space and a basketball court, with each team of three jerseyed players given a bench and a television screen to track their ongoing score. Points are awarded based on the success of improv games and there’s an announcer, a referee, an Applause-o-meter and… much like the show itself, which spends a solid ten minutes on introductory information, I’ve already used up a good deal of real estate explaining the premise. Suffice it to say that there is improv, there is competition and there is comedy. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Second City’s Improv All-Stars/The Second City

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(left to right) Adam Peacock, Ryan Archibald, Brooke Breit, Kevin Sciretta Second City Improv All-Stars . © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

Adam Peacock, Ryan Archibald, Brooke Breit, Kevin Sciretta/Photo: Todd Rosenberg


Still going strong after more than three years, this sixty-minute showcase of Second City’s improvisational skill, with an on-stage cast of five that rotates through almost twenty listed cast members, manages a healthy mix of audience-pleasing quick laughs and more in-depth improvisational games. Director Mick Napier has allowed for plenty of audience suggestions (who laughs more than the person whose suggestion was taken?) with quick, clearly explained improv games while still letting his performers take a few scenes to expand on lengthier scenes with more character development.

On the Monday night I attended, the UP Comedy Club was nearly full and nearly every game, from the stalwart “freeze” to more elaborate games involving telling a story from multiple character perspectives and styles, landed. But the darker moments stood out—“Reunions are about going to be with the people who are supposed to make you happy but they don’t.”/”I thought that’s what Facebook was?”—demonstrating that this cast knows what’s funny is not always happy. Read the rest of this entry »

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