The Second City is an improv and comedy troupe that has featured some of the biggest names in entertainment come through its ranks including John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Shelly Long, George Wendt, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Tim Meadows, Bob Odenkirk, and Stephen Colbert. It has long been a training ground for future stars of “Saturday Night Live” and other hit television programming.
Second City has locations in Chicago, New York, and Toronto. The Chicago location includes a battery of performance spaces and training areas at the corner of North and Wells in the city’s Uptown neighborhood.
Second City began life in 1959 as a small comedy cabaret, and has since become a machine. Aspiring performers come from all over the country to train with Second City. The most talented of the graduates go on to perform in sketch comedy and improv productions – in the city and around the world.
Seven nights a week, Second City’s talented performers take on the task of making the world laugh – and they do a side-splittingly damn good job of it. One sketch comedy laugh-fest that has audiences hemorrhaging in the aisles is “Oh, The Places You Will Glow” in the Second City e.t.c. Theatre. Talk about a great time!
Attending Second City for “Oh, The Places You Will Glow” was a bit of a homecoming. I was first brought to Chicago years ago to star in “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding.” After I joined the show, we became the talk of the town, selling out night after night to capacity crowds.
We performed out of Piper’s Alley which was – you guessed it – located at the corner of North and Wells. At the time, “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” occupied the third floor of the building, with The Second City, a movie theatre, and other shops on the other levels.
“Tony n’ Tina’s” is no longer playing in Chicago (although I’ve heard rumblings of a revival). And while the name Piper’s Alley is no longer used to describe the facilities at North and Wells, the address is still the easy-to-find location for enjoying the hilarious comedy of Second City.
“Oh, The Places You Will Glow” features the exceptional creative talents of Meghan Babbe, Leila Gorstein, Claudia Martinez, Tim Metzler, Jordan Savusa, and Brittani Yawn under the impeccable direction of Jeff Griggs.
Although not a musical, the show does feature some giggle-inspiring comic parody songs in the vein of SNL. As such, music director John Love also plays an important role.
Little, if anything, is off the table when it comes to subjects for Second City to jest about. The opening of “Oh, The Places You Will Glow” features a skit about toxic politics. It’s not meant to be a political statement, so much as addressing the absurdity of some of the beliefs of extremists and the cult-like way they are embraced despite lacking in logic.
In this sketch, a young man must weigh the ethical dilemma of keeping his mouth shut to guarantee a one-night-stand with a hot stranger, or objecting to her extremist political ramblings. Gorstein and Metzler are wonderful in this opener. It starts the night off on the right foot, promising a great time.
What ensues for the next two hours includes just great comedy. All of the performers are excellent, but Martinez has an inner light that is like a magnet to the audience. Not caring if you call her a she or a him, Martinez puts the focus on being funny – and succeeds valiantly. From funny accents to silly expressions to physical comedy galore, Martinez is a pint-sized dynamo of hilarity.
Martinez proves that great things can come in small packages. Savusa proves that extra-large servings of humor are just as funny. Like many of the famous big and tall stars who have frequented SNL’s cast, Savusa is a king of over-the-top facial exaggerations and matching manic energy.
In the show, there is a sketch involving Martinez as a Shirley Temple-type child star and Savusa as a film producer trying to placate her. While everyone in the cast of “Glow” bleeds humor, these two together are exceptionally funny.
At another point in the show, Yawn stands out in her turn as the wife of Satan, as a young newly-dead learns that like on earth it is often the woman behind the man who is really in charge. Metzler adds to the hilarity as the dark lord himself.
Babbe is an absolute riot opposite Gorstein as a mother/daughter duo lamenting about their bodies while shopping at TJ Maxx. However, it is Babbe and Martinez that tear down the house as a pair of Italian mafioso types. The over-the-top accents and demeanor are so outrageous they have the audience gasping for breath from laughing so hard.
Improv artists who train at Second City are the best in the world at what they do. Improv and sketch comedy are very unique art forms and wonderfully entertaining when done right, as is the case with “Oh, The Places You Will Glow”. You’re never really sure where the twists and turns of the night might take you, because thanks to audience participation, every show is a unique experience. That’s also why you can see a show like “Oh, The Places You Will Glow” repeatedly and have a new and exciting experience each time.
Now’s the time to catch a showing of “Oh, The Places You Will Glow”. It runs through January 28, 2024, and is well worth the price of admission. Enjoy drinks and food to nibble on during the performance with convenient table service. The wait staff and house staff do a phenomenal job – so be sure to tip generously. They are just as important to you having a good time as the performers on stage.
Also a key part of the success of “Oh, The Places You Will Glow” are associate director Louis Cortes, stage manager, lighting designer Abby Beggs, choreographer Carissa Barreca, scenic designer Brenden Marble, and wardrobe stylist kClare McKellaston.
“Oh, The Places You Will Glow” is one of several comedy offerings at The Second City. Other shows include “Don’t Quit Your Daydream”, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Sweater”, “Improv Holiday Brunch”, and the highly interactive “You Got Gamed”. That’s just a sampling, for a full rundown of all the ways to inject laughter into your life, visit www.SecondCity.com and look under the “Shows” tab.
Chicago is known for excelling in a lot of things. We’ve got great pizza. We’ve got a great Blues music scene. And, we’ve got the best improv in the world. Not to take anything away from the other great comedy troupes around town, but The Second City is a big reason why improv in Chicago is second to none.
“Oh, The Places You Will Glow” runs Thursdays through Sundays. For show times and reservations visit www.SecondCity.com or call the box office at (312) 337-3992.
Photo credit Timothy M. Schmidt
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Rikki Lee Travolta
For more reviews visit: Theatre in Chicago – your source for What’s on Stage in the Chicago Area
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