Review: It’s a Wild, Rowdy, Wonderful Life (The Second City)

The Second City Toronto presents their annual sketch comedy holiday revue

With 2018 drawing to a close, Second City brings its annual Holiday Revue – It’s a Wild, Rowdy, Wonderful Life – to the masses, reminding us all to enjoy the small moments of joy in a period of stress and worry.

I don’t know about you, but 2018 has been an exhausting year for me. With the 24 hour news cycle, social media and everything that has occurred over the past 365 days there has been this feeling like we’re barreling towards something and there have been plenty of moments where I’ve wanted to ask the ride operator to stop because I’d like to get off.

Thankfully Second City’s Holiday Revue is not only solid in its own right but it’s one of the best pieces I’ve experienced from the company so far.

If you’ve ever been to a Second City revue you probably know what to expect; a mixture of scripted and improvised comedy usually built around a specific theme (in this case the holiday season), but with It’s a Wild, Rowdy, Wonderful Life the company has really brought their A game. From the awkwardness of the seasonal office party to the chaos of family get togethers the show touches on all of the hallmarks of the season while not relying on “the holidays, am I right?” which is always such a millstone over the neck of so many productions that occur this time of year.

From a scripted perspective, the show brings some really sharp, clever and human stories to the stage, blending humour and pathos just enough that the audience is able to connect with the stories without becoming too maudlin. For myself, personally, I really appreciated the willingness to avoid “pat” punchlines and gags. Sure, one might dismiss the awkwardness of an actual partner meeting the “work spouse” during an office party but there’s a commitment to the more “traditional” sketches that goes beyond standard gags and creates an engaging narrative that I couldn’t help but get involved in.

One of my personal highlights from the scripted sections was a story about a bat found in a winter cottage that blended both entertaining slapstick and choreography that my pretentious brain immediately connected to the German operetta Die Fledermaus. I have no idea if that was intended by the ensemble but it brought a smile to my face both for my interpreted connection and the solid performances both in script and choreography.

Of course it isn’t Second City without improvisation and without a doubt the highlight of the entire show was a sequence that saw what the classic Nativity Story would be like reimagined by various TV networks. The crowd was a little self-conscious so the only suggestion thrown out (by my date Samantha) was Spike TV, which led to an amazing reinterpretation of the story as told through the, let’s say problematic lens, of the “Network for Men”.

Of course when improvisation comes into any production there’s only so much a cast can do with the material they’re given (really that’s apt for any performance art period) and there were some less than amazing bits when this specific style was incorporated; specifically one exploring how important community and “neighbors” are; the setup was amusing but it was a sequence so dependent on audience members committing and providing solid material that it felt like it dragged a bit.

All that being said however this is one of the best pieces I’ve seen from Second City and I couldn’t help but leave the show with a smile on my face and a sense of satisfaction. The ensemble for this show is amazing and energetic with a variety of talents and skills that deserve recognition and as 2018 winds to a close it is without a doubt a solid way to spend an evening and say farewell to the year that we have all endured together.

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Photo of Natalie Metcalfe and Christian Smith by Paul Aihoshi

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