by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL
Those hoping to score a pair of tickets at the box office window to last Saturday’s Second City 50th Anniversary Tour performance were sorely disappointed. Tickets for the traveling comedy spectacular, held in the cozy confines of the 800-seat Rockford High School Fine Arts Auditorium, had sold out the week prior.
In a leap of faith, the show’s presenter, the Rockford Education Foundation (REF), had booked a touring ensemble of Chicago’s famed Second City comedy theater. Judging from the audience reaction, during and after the evening’s performance, the REF had hit a homerun.
The five-member touring company of multi-talented comedic actors, without benefit of a usual lead-in act to warm up the audience, had the lucky ticket holders continuously laughing out loud for the entire two-hour performance.
Performing cutting-edge improvisational and satirical comedy sketches relevant to the times of our lives both past and present were Seth Weitberg, Brooke Bagnall, Rachel Miller, Abby McEnany, and Detroit-native Sam Richardson. Each a budding comedic star in their own right, combined they were a hilarious powerhouse.
At every stop along the tour, depending on the make-up audience, very little subject matter is off limits. The Rockford crowd in attendance that evening could have been classified as “M” (for mature) with no children present. Thus sizing up the house during the opening skit, it appeared as though the troupe stepped their social comment up a notch.
At the outset of the performance, we found Rachel lying across three chairs (meant, we soon learned, to be a couch). Entering the stage, Sam pantomimed the lighting of candles and the pouring of wine and proceeded to the couch, knelt down and began to inflate his date through a valve in her foot. Unbelievably, an inflatable doll sat upright! Just as things were beginning to “heat up,” the doll sprung a leak. Taken aback, Sam tried to re-inflate the doll, but the leak persisted. Amid uproarious laughter from the audience, we found Sam in sheer frustration and disappointment as the stage lights faded to black.
Perhaps a highlight of the evening was what turned out to be an audience participation sketch. An ensemble member, Rachel, again appears onstage and announces to the audience they are the Rockford High School choir and she is substituting that day for David Duiven. Telling the “choir” they were there to practice the song “America the Beautiful,” she proceeded to pounce upon a hapless front-row spectator, telling him to stand up and tell her what the song’s ending “from sea to shining sea” meant. Just as a student might, this grown man replied, “What song?” Finally, with help from the rest of the choir (audience), the director gets the answer she wanted: “from the Atlantic to the Pacific.” Two other front-row choir (audience) members were chosen and put to the test by singing lines and conducting their fellow classmates. They almost succeeded in getting it right and it was hilarious.
The entire show was so well-crafted and put together that it seemed to us to be over before it even began. We could have easily spent another two hours doubled up in laughter.
The REF presented this sold-out 14th annual benefit performance. The entire proceeds of the evening’s performance went to support the good works of the REF in the Rockford community. Since its inception in 1991, the REF has awarded more than $800,000 in grants.
“This unique Rockford community we all live in never ceases to amaze me,” said REF Administrator Sue Arend. “Even in these hard economic times, they continue to be generous and supportive to all things local, including the REF. Saturday evening’s sold-out benefit performance is a prime example, for which I’m very grateful.”
The Wolverine World Wide Foundation and United Bank, without whose generous financial support the show would not have been possible, generously underwrote the 14th REF benefit performance.
A prime fundraising event of every year, the annual REF Phone-A-Thon, will be held February 23-25. Volunteers are always welcome. Call (616) 863-6317 to inquire.