Upcoming Theatre

The Second City is excited to announce “I Can’t Believe They Wendt There: The Roast of George Wendt” a night guaranteed to destroy one of the world’s most beloved comedy legends, George Wendt--all in the name of charity.
 
Roastmaster Jason Sudeikis, along with Roasters Bob Odenkirk, Betty Thomas, David Koechner, and a growing list of the biggest and brightest names in comedy will gather for this once-in-a-lifetime evening of comedy and camaraderie to benefit Gilda’s Club Chicago and The Second City Alumni Fund, hosted at Chicago’s iconic Mainstage at The Second City.
 
The one-night-only performance will take place on Saturday, September 9th, 2017 in the Second City Mainstage Theater (1616 N. Wells, Chicago, IL 60614) The show will begin at 7:00pm.
 
“The Second City has been a phenomenal friend of Gilda’s Club Chicago since we opened in 1998, and we are grateful for the opportunity to partner with them on this exciting event,” stated LauraJane Hyde, CEO of Gilda’s Club Chicago. “Support like this helps us continue to ensure that anyone impacted by cancer is empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community.”
 
“We’re looking forward to an incredibly special evening that brings back the long-lost art of the Dean Martin-era celebrity roast. It’s been a few years since George has returned to his old stomping grounds here at Second City, and he’s saint of a guy for letting us put him in the hot seat for two incredible causes. We are thrilled to be able to partner with Gilda’s Club Chicago again for this tremendous opportunity to impact the lives of those who are battling cancer, their support circles, and also the members of our own Second City family who are up against the most challenging of circumstances.” Andrew Alexander, CEO/Executive Producer of The Second City.
 
Tax-deductible tickets for the “I Can’t Believe They Wendt There: The Roast of George Wendt” are on sale now and are organized into three ticketing tiers.
 
Top-Shelf VIP Tickets ($3,000 each) include a pre-show VIP reception inside Second City’s historic complex at 1959 Kitchen & Bar. Includes a photo opportunity with George & Jason. Appetizers and top shelf open bar service provided.
 
The 1959 Package ($1,959 each) features a backstage experience led by Second City’s Behind the Bentwood tour guides including special surprise guests. Open bar & dinner in Mainstage Theater provided by the best of Chicago's classic cuisine is also included.
 
General Admission is also available ($1,000 each) and includes open bar & dinner in Mainstage Theater provided by the best of Chicago's classic cuisine.
 
Tickets are tax-deductible and can be purchased online at www.secondcity.com or by phone at 312-664-4032.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

"Funnyman", now playing at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, is a familiar tale about an artist who has reached the end of one phase of his career and has to either adapt to the new environs and trends in entertainment or retire to his old world , hopefully with his dignity intact.

 

George Wendt, lovingly known for his co-starring role as Norm in the hit series, Cheers, plays the lead character of "Chick", a vaudeville star abused as a child and later who was exploited as an adult in order to rehash, and cash in on, his tired old catch phrase "Wowsa! 

 

Chick and his faithful agent, Milt Karp, played with real sympathy and humor by talented SNL alumna, Tim Kazurinsky, now makes Chick his only income by doing clownish Bromo Seltzer TV commercials.  

 

After three years with no offers of theater work, Chick is finally offered a groundbreaking role in a French beatnik production that will bring his gifts to a new young audience and reinvigorate his career indefinitely - if he can pull it off. The flamboyantly gay director, played by Rob Lindley was a real comedic standout and his energy onstage reinvigorated the piece throughout the second act. 

 

For much of the first act we only see that Chick is very depressed and like other funnymen we have known and loved - Robin Williams, John Belushi, Chick is only "funny' in public when he has to be - as a defense mechanism to get others to like him and finally, after hearing his catchphrase, to leave him alone. 

 

His grown daughter lives with him after a prolonged absence when she was sent away as child to boarding schools. She presses Chick, Milt, and anyone who knew Chick in the early days and researches the library archives to find out why her father has always been so harsh and unapproachable to her. She also demands to know more about the mystery of how her beautiful showgirl mother suddenly died in a way that no one - least of all Chick - her own father will explain to her.

 

Although 'Funnyman" is billed as a comedy and there are several good laughs in it, the real satisfaction, and finally catharsis, comes to the audience as the underpinnings of the sometimes harsh world of vaudevillian entertainment come to light. 

 

Apparently, Chick was used by his mother and father in what they called a "chaser act", meaning they "chase" the audience out of the theater at the end of the show. The thought being that the audience will be less likely to throw bottles and food at a couple holding a baby!

 

Chick learned as he got older that if he didn't make funny faces at as many as four shows, six days a week, he would not eat. When a four-year-old making funny faces ceased to appease the audience, the family's' routine morphed into what they called a "rough act" where Chick ended up being thrown across the stage for a laugh. 

 

When one day he actually broke his collarbone after being tossed on stage, the stage doctor told his mother that he could not perform for a few weeks until it healed. His mother, whom Chick believes had sadistic tendencies, tells the doctor without flinching or humor, "No, he can go on, we will throw him underhand." 

 

At one point Chick makes the observation that "Nobody takes comics seriously until they do something serious." For that reason this production, which was very satisfying as whole on many levels, reminded me of Michael Keaton's Oscar nominated role in the hit film "Birdman".

 

The audience goes in expecting to see and laugh at the warm, fuzzy, familiar "Norm” from Cheers but leaves feeling they have seen the full dramatic range of what a skilled actor like George Wendt is really capable of when given the right material. 

 

It's a tragic irony reflecting on the seemingly endless well of insecurity that actors experience in general that in Funnyman they also quote the fact that "The hardest thing in the world... is comedy." 

 

Great comic actors like Keaton and Robin Williams have forever been trying to prove that they are as "good" or as "gifted" as their more serious counterparts who tend to receive all of the Oscars and respect, when in reality as a skill, comic timing and comic writing are much, much harder to achieve. Comedic timing is quite simply a much rarer gift to be blessed with in this world, a true prolific comic, or comedian/writer is very, very rare indeed. 

 

Chick's daughter played aptly by Amanda Drinkall finds an old news article about her mother and father performing together and notes that it is quite literally the only photograph of her father truly smiling that exists. Sadly it seems to her that she has never seen that smile on his face in real life - ever.  I don't want to give away this important plot point about the tragedy of his wife's death but it shows that Chick was once a sweet, softie who finally had found happiness with his love, until it was taken away and never returned.  

 

I loved the video touches with "I Love Lucy" and the Bromo commercial reenactment and the references to the golden age of Broadway including all of the agent to artist arguing and pep talking.

 

The set was functionally designed to keep the play moving quickly from scene to scene but I found myself wishing for more color, more definition, more character and less generalized nostalgia in each of the spaces. It felt a little sparse and depressing.

 

I highly recommend seeing this satisfying and ultimately encouraging and heartwarming ensemble type piece about overcoming your greatest fears regarding major transitions in one's life, even if one of your greatest fears, in this case Chick's abusive mother and weak father, are long gone from your life. 

 

The fear of forgiving those events that have crushed you, and moving on to enjoy present life opportunities with your family and friends that are still here and do love you, must be faced and overcome.

 

Funnyman, clearly illustrates that if you cannot roll with the changes, especially in later years, then life itself becomes like Chick's life - a joke which has ceased to make people laugh, a bitterly boring and sad repetition of days without laughter or cheer - which is not a life worth living.

 

Funnyman is being performed at Northlight Theatre through October 18th. For tickets or more show information, visit www.northlight.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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