HomeBensalem TimesHistoric comedy troupe The Second City comes to Bristol Riverside

Historic comedy troupe The Second City comes to Bristol Riverside

This brand new revue featuring the next Steve Carell or Tina Fey is on stage through June 2

Future comedy legends: From top L: Rich Alfonso, Karl Bradley, Kennedy Baldwin, Anna Bortnick, Ross Taylor and Claire Favret are the ensemble of ‘The Second City: Comedian Rhapsody.’ Submitted Photos

From Steve Carell and Dan Aykroyd to Tiny Fey and Catherine O’Hara, many well-known comedic actors once cut their teeth with The Second City — the oldest Chicago-based improvisational theater troupe that has been honing skills for the past 65 years. 

On May 16, the next generation of up-and-coming comedy stars hit the Bristol Riverside Theatre stage for opening night of The Second City: Comedian Rhapsody, a brand new revue featuring sketch comedy, songs and trademark improvisation. Running through June 2, this is the final show of the 2023-24 mainstage season. 

“The Second City is legendary to me as someone who grew up in the Midwest and spent my early career in Chicago,” said co-producing director Ken Kaissar. “They are the epitome of fearless comedy, and they end up improvising at every show, so no two performances are the same. I’m so honored to bring this national treasure to Bristol.” 

Over the course of two acts spanning nearly two hours, the ensemble of Rich Alfonso, Kennedy Baldwin, Anna Bortnick, Karl Bradley, Claire Favret and Ross Taylor were six forces of non-stop energy as they pulled out all the stops to entertain. Though the theater was noticeably emptier than it was for March’s opening night of Big: The Musical, which drew a heavy family crowd, that didn’t dampen the quality of their performance. 

Not surprisingly, given The Second City’s notoriety for top-notch improv, the moments when the cast acted off the cuff were some of the funniest of the evening, especially when it involved audience participation. 

For example, they asked a woman in the front row to name something about her husband that really irks her. After she explained how he doesn’t properly load the dishwasher, The Second City effortlessly concocted a detailed musical number that spotlighted the struggles of such a situation. Baldwin even brought out a picket sign bearing the words, “Respect my wishes, load those dishes,” which was then incorporated into the song and chanted in catchy unison by the cast. 

Another special audience-influenced moment came when Alfonso asked if there were any Spanish-speaking attendees in the crowd. A woman from Langhorne raised her hand and was escorted on stage by the comedian to participate in the next sketch. Her role? Translate between Alfonso’s foreign character and two immigration task force members (Bradley and Taylor) who were trying to detain him. Her soft-spoken nature juxtaposed with the comedians’ more over-the-top style was endearingly entertaining, with the woman even getting to participate in the official dance of the American people: Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” 

Throughout Comedian Rhapsody, the ensemble performed a handful of scripted skits, some of which were more laugh-inducing than others. 

A rather humorous one featured Bortnick portraying the daughter of Favret and Taylor, two of the dorkiest, most stereotypically embarrassing parents one could fathom. Others skits certainly had their funny moments, but seemed to go on for a bit too long. One such example involved Baldwin and Bradley playing the mom and dad of Alfonso, who, before he was allowed to attend a baseball game, was forced to reveal which parent he’d save if they both drowned. He was in a lose-lose situation, with both getting insulted and issuing a drawn-out, “WELLLLL…,” when he picked one or the other. 

In addition to the longer sketches, Comedian Rhapsody also encompassed a slew of quick-hitting, one- or two-line scenes that were performed in rapid succession and packed a punch with shocking, relatable revelations. For example, one of these short skits opened with Favret carrying on about not wanting to go to school. Audiences had a brief moment to assume she was playing a cranky child before she was shown at the front of a classroom, clearly a disgruntled teacher. 

The cast also participated in fast-paced games that truly showcased their comedic timing and improv skills. In one exercise, Bradley rang a bell that forced an actor to change up the last line spoken, sometimes up to four or five times. The final line was then used moving forward. In another, the actors had the opportunity to tag themselves into a skit, picking up where the previous actor left off and taking the story in a new and unhinged direction. 

At the end of the show, following a clever rewind of everything that happened throughout, the cast paid homage to the history of The Second City and all the talented alums that came before them. Who knows? Maybe one of these six will someday be on “Saturday Night Live” or a future iconic sitcom. 

Afterward, attendees were invited to join in the opening night tradition of complimentary wine and food. They were also able to test out samples of the new seats that are going to be installed at Bristol Riverside Theatre as part of its first major renovation, set to begin this summer. According to co-producer Amy Kaissar, the seats are the same size, just more cushioned and with moving armrests for higher accessibility. 

The Second City: Comedian Rhapsody is the final production to take place at the theater in its current state. During the revamp, the Summer Music Fest is taking place at Benjamin Franklin Middle School, and the first two shows of the 2024-25 mainstage season are being held at The Regency Room. 

Visit brtstage.org or call the box office at 215-785-0100 for tickets and more information. Bristol Riverside Theatre is located at 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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