Review: Panic on Cloud 9 (Second City of Chicago)

| January 17, 2015
Chelsea Devantez and John Hartman star in Second City's "Panic on Cloud 9", directed by Ryan Bernier. (photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)        
      
Panic on Cloud 9

Written by the Ensemble 
Directed by Ryan Bernier
Second City Mainstage, 1616 N. Wells (map) 
open end  |  tickets: $23 and up   |  more info
       
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Second City reminds us why they’re first in sketch comedy

     

Chelsea Devantez, Paul Jurewicz, Emily Walker and Christine Tawfik  star in Second City's "Panic on Cloud 9", directed by Ryan Bernier. (photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)

    
Second City presents
    
Panic on Cloud 9

Review by Keith Glab

Invariably, The Second City touts its success by listing their plethora of alumni that have gone on to star on Saturday Night Live. Ironically, the live sketch comedy shows they put on in Chicago tend to prove far funnier than anything you’ll see on SNL.

Christine Tawfik and Paul Jurewicz star in Second City's "Panic on Cloud 9", directed by Ryan Bernier. (photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)Their latest mainstage production, nebulously dubbed Panic on Cloud 9, doesn’t contain any strong linking themes and only one callback that I noticed. Nevertheless, a couple dozen skits of unrelated material can truly entertain when skit after skit is strong. This six-writer/actor ensemble tackles topical issues such as Ebola, Chicago’s rise in gun violence (in a great Batman and Robin skit), and the Chicago Bears’ disappointing season, but most of the comedy is timeless.

Some examples include “Tarmac”, which explores the semi-topical subject of a nervous man (Paul Jurewicz) flirting with a girl (Christine Tawfik) on a plane before freaking out upon realizing that she is an Arab. What makes this vignette work, however, is the subtle physical mannerisms between Jurewicz and Tawfik that establish their characters so well. In “Camp Fire”, a couple of rural rubes pontificate on such common philosophical quandaries as what it’s like to be a shy architect. Here, Jurewicz teams with Mainstage veteran John Hartman, and the two play the empathic absurdity with such earnestness that eventually their pauses for laughter elicit laughter. Contrary to popular belief, subtlety and realism often work better in sketch comedy than outrageousness and exaggeration do.

While each of those carefully crafted sketches plays extremely well, a sketch that’s almost entirely improvised highlights the show. In “Barber”, a stereotypically chit-chatty Italian cosmetologist (Daniel Strauss) will discuss various subjects with his customers before the discussion gets summarized in a worldly adage by Santiago (Emily Walker), a gruff barbershop fly who hides behind sunglasses and a newspaper until he reveals his wisdom. The final subject gets chosen from the audience, and Santiago drops his knowledge after fun banter between the barber and the audience member.

Christine Tawfik, Paul Jurewicz, Emily Walker and John Hartman star in Second City's "Panic on Cloud 9", directed by Ryan Bernier. (photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)Chelsea Devantez and Daniel Strauss star in Second City's "Panic on Cloud 9", directed by Ryan Bernier. (photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)  Christine Tawfik and Paul Jurewicz star in Second City's "Panic on Cloud 9", directed by Ryan Bernier. (photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)Chelsea Devantez, Emily Walker and Christin Tawfik star in Second City's "Panic on Cloud 9", directed by Ryan Bernier. (photo credit: Todd Rosenberg) John Hartman and Paul Jurewicz star in Second City's "Panic on Cloud 9", directed by Ryan Bernier. (photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)

My only caveat to recommending this production is the musical numbers that bookend the performance. Musical director and composer Jacob Shuda makes his Mainstage debut here, and even though I don’t expect a lot from music in a sketch revue, this effort disappoints. The songs drone on without much discernable rhythm, rhyme scheme, or comedy. The ensemble doesn’t do much to help Shuda out in his debut, delivering these songs flatly and strangely stoic.

But don’t let a few minutes of subpar songs deter you from two hours of raucous laughter. Panic on Cloud 9 showcases the best of Chicago sketch comedy. It’s the perfect show to bring your friends and family who are visiting from out of town and a great destination for local sketch comedy veterans as well.

  
Rating: ★★★½
  
   

Panic on Cloud 9 continues at Second City’s Main Stage, 1616 N. Wells (map), with performances Tuesdays-Thursdays 8pm, Fridays and Saturdays 8pm and 11pm, Sundays 7pm.  Tickets start at $23, and are available by phone (312-337-3992) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at SecondCity.com(Running time: 2 hour, includes an intermission)

Chelsea Devantez, John Hartman, Emily Walker, Paul Jurewicz, Daniel Strauss and Christine Tawfik  star in Second City's "Panic on Cloud 9", directed by Ryan Bernier. (photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)

Photos by Todd Rosenberg and Kirsten Miccoli


     

artists

cast

Chelsea Devantez, John Hartman, Emily Walker, Paul Jurewicz, Daniel Strauss, Christine Tawfik 

behind the scenes

Ryan Bernier (director), Jacob Shuda (musical director, composer, sound design), Craig Taylor (stage manager), Bob Knuth (set design), Greg Mulvey (projection design), Kyle Anderson (lighting, technical director), Todd Rosenberg, Kirsten Miccoli (photos)

Chelsea Devantez, John Hartman, Emily Walker, Paul Jurewicz, Daniel Strauss and Christine Tawfik  star in Second City's "Panic on Cloud 9", directed by Ryan Bernier. (photo credit: Kirsten Miccoli)Daniel Strauss, Christine Tawfik and Chelsea Devantez star in Second City's "Panic on Cloud 9", directed by Ryan Bernier. (photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)  Daniel Strauss, Emily Walker and John Hartman star in Second City's "Panic on Cloud 9", directed by Ryan Bernier. (photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)

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Category: 2014 Reviews, Improv, Keith Glab, Second City, Sketch Comedy

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