The main title of the new revue at Second City’s Up Comedy Club, is “The Best Friggin’ Songs of the Second City,” though for simplicity’s sake I will refer to it by the two-word subtitle which is reference in the show itself: “Sing Out.” I can’t vouch for the absolute veracity of the claim that these are indeed the “best” songs, but I can say that the Carisa Berraca and Carly Heffernan-directed show is a tremendously entertaining evening of surprisingly still relevant and updated comic masterpieces (plus some new and even improvised songs) sung by a game and talented ensemble. (Berraca also choreographed, and this show has more complicated moves than many other second City revues I’ve seen.) It leans rather heavily on nihilism—a lot of numbers about guns, climate change, depression, and the end of the world—but, hey, if we can’t laugh about the stuff that hurts, we’ll all become Will Smith.
The performers for this show are uniformly wonderful. Teagan Earley, with her beribboned ginger locks and deceptively innocent dress, spends much of the show subverting expectations. Breanna Ghostone, golden braids practically down to her waist, is the lone Black cast member and tends to take the lead in many songs, especially when they call for rap…though the versatile dynamo Cat McDonnell joins her for one wonderful bit as a privileged White woman whose (excellent) rap complains about the sort of “Karen” things—slow elevators and the like—that appall the sensibilities of Ghostone’s character, who is singing about justice. (My name is Karen, so I’m allowed to make this kind of observation.) Jazmin Ramos, filling in for Tina Arfaee on the night I saw the show, made the most of her appearance in several memorable moments including one in which, teaming with Ghostone, she removed all of her outer clothing in a paean to body positivity. She is also part of an ongoing series of brief scenes with the amazingly talented Preston Parker in which he appears alone at first doing increasingly complex and outrageous dances, to which she makes the simple response: “that’s not foreplay.” Parker is a force to be reckoned with: his guitar and bass playing, his tenor voice, his movement skills, and his formidable stage presence combine beautifully with whoever his scene partner happens to be (or totally on his own, as he is in one hilarious number about a guy whose “positive attitude” is constantly being challenged). Rounding out the ensemble is a self-described “fresh face to Chicago,” Uri, a non-binary performer with excellent comic ability that is especially notable during one solo scene in which their character recounts a failed attempt at a pickup. They also possess a wonderfully resonant singing voice that adds the deeper notes that the musical blends depend upon.
Of course, being a Second City show, “Sing Out” makes liberal use of audience members. One bit had Earley and Parker as stalkers targeting two specific people in the audience. This scene leaned on social media as well as old-fashioned physical stalking, which made it maybe a bit creepy while also being perfectly hilarious. For the social media parts, the directors used video screens that, during scene changes throughout the production, showed clips of sixty years of Second City ensembles…a nice touch. In another foray into the audience, Ghostone got amazingly lucky in her selection of a guy named Nick who clearly had some improv experience as he was totally comfortable throwing funny lines back at her. (Example: the scene being about searching for the perfect man, she asked him how far he’d go for her: would he drink her bathwater? Nick did a quick double-take before responding, “Could you put some gin in it?”) Ghostone and the other troupe members were clearly thrilled to find someone so capable of joining their repartée.
One note: this was the first show I’ve been to since reopening at which the vast majority of the audience was not masked. Second City did check vaccination records before allowing people in, so it was almost certainly safe, but this younger-skewing audience (who were also enjoying beverages and food) clearly felt comfortable showing their full faces. (Speaking of food, the cheese curds, which arrived super-hot from the fryer, were excellent.)
“Sing Out” may be a tribute to the comedy compositions of troupes past, but this troupe proves that (for better or for worse) a lot of their material was actually timeless. You’ll laugh your asses off as they do it, too. The show plays from Thursdays through Sundays until May 6, and tickets are available from the company’s website.