Toronto’s Second City returns with Sixteen Scandals, their spring mainstage revue
Sixteen Scandals, the latest concoction down at The Second City‘s Mercer Street madhouse, is everything a comedy revue ought to be: snappy, witty, wacky, topical, fast-paced and very, very funny. On opening night, the laughter from the back row alone was shaking the foundations and frightening the pigeons.
And this show’s unique Toronto focus is especially refreshing. The Second City is one of our city’s most under-appreciated theatrical institutions: something we know about, but something we associate with tourists and corporate parties and station wagons full of Red Hat Ladies who want a few laughs but need to be in bed by eleven. That this show is so freewheeling and tight in its focus makes this an unusually good time to make the trip down King Street, if you’ve been putting it off.
The ensemble of six, assisted by musical director Matthew Reid (and Camellia Koo’s modular set), burn through a few dozen sketches at a brisk, rat-a-tat-tat clip. Ashley Botting’s adventures in cyberspace, an introduction to Allison Price’s meet-the-Cleavers family, and an outstandingly bold bit built around a Sesame Street classic all landed especially well. The boys also get a lovely long drag sketch, and the microsketches–particularly a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it encounter around Tinder–are outstanding. There’s plenty to find funny, and every member of the cast gets a moment to shine.
However, there’s something about this show that bugged me a bit: every character seems to get a happy ending, every scene ends on a high note… in short, it’s just so gosh-golly-darn-it nice. And maybe that’s the point. This revue is firmly situated in a Toronto beaten down by a crackhead of a mayor, a long dreary winter, malaise between the suburbs and inner-city, and dozens of other serious wounds. Maybe what we all need, right now, is a citywide hug.
But I thought that several of the sketches, particularly those which tended towards more observational and in-the-room humour, would have been improved if they had a little more of an edge to them. A little song about modern relationships is plenty sweet, but ends predictably; a cautionary tale about the perils of living as a couple in a 400-square-foot condo is touching, but peters out once the joke hits the floor; a drag scene in a gym locker room has several high points, but seems afraid of offending a specific group of people–even as it heaps scorn upon them.
Please don’t misunderstand: it’s not that these sketches don’t work. They’re funny, as is this company: days later I’m still hearing Kevin Vidal’s groovy soul singer, and parts of Connor Thompson are burned indelibly into the back of my mind, no matter how much bleach I gargle. This cast has comic timing down to an art, are game for anything, and play off each other with glee and verve. There’s plenty to love about this revue, and the performers and creative team have much to be proud of.
And, if nothing else, the decision to pull a few punches will make it easier to do what I urge you to do anyway: go and see this show. Even when Second City isn’t at the absolute tippy-top of their game, they’re still head and shoulders above most of the entertainment in the city. This is one of the finest shows in town, and–especially if you’ve never been–there’s no time like the present to discover the magic that flows out onto Mercer Street.
- Sixteen Scandals plays The Second City (51 Mercer Street, near King & Spadina) through June 29th, 2014.
- Performances Tuesdays to Thursdays at 8 PM; 7:30 and 10 on Fridays and Saturdays; 7:30 on Sundays.
- Ticket prices range from $25.00 to $29.00, with student and group discounts available. See website for details.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-343-0011), or in-person from the venue box office.
- Seating is general admission; arrive early for best selection.
Photograph of (front, then L -> R) Ashley Botting, Craig Brown, Allison Price, Kevin Vidal, Connor Thompson & Sarah Hillier by Racheal McCaig.