Turn Flaws Into Funny
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Turn Flaws Into Funny

Second City's new show classes up the stage without losing previous shows' bite; Stupidhead dreams up laugh out loud singing stand-up.

Left to Right, Paloma Nunez, Brandon Hackett, and Ann Pornel speak (but don't sing) out in Everything In Great Again. Photo by Paul Aihoshi.

Left to Right, Paloma Nunez, Brandon Hackett, and Ann Pornel speak (but don’t sing) out in Everything is Great Again. Photo by Paul Aihoshi.

The Second City Toronto main stage has received a considerable overhaul since their last revue, which was a gritty and functional set covered with topical graffiti. Now, a rich blue curtain and traditional proscenium arch has replaced the highway underpass look, but the cast (which has always been sharply and conservatively dressed) still has sharp satirical skewering up their sleeves. The title, Everything is Great Again, of course, refers to the current U.S. president’s electioneering slogan, but plenty of sketches belie that idea. One stand-out moment features the half of the cast who’re visible minorities (Ann Pornel, Brandon Hackett, and new cast member Paloma Nuñez) taking a drug-induced spiritual journey through their hang-ups and insecurities surrounding their cultural identities; another features Pornel and Colin Munch loudly debating the true meaning of free speech mid-audience, (hopefully) pre-empting any drunken hecklers. It’s not all issues and identity politics, of course; in one scene, the full cast inner monologues their expectations versus reality as they return to their youthful hot spot, The Dance Cave (above Lee’s Palace).

Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson in Stupidhead. Photo by Michael Cooper.

Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson in Stupidhead. Photo by Michael Cooper.

What this latest Second City revue doesn’t feature much of, unlike most of its predecessors, is musical numbers, as the show plays to the cast’s strengths (that said, there are some pretty fly dance numbers). For “musical cmoedy,” you’ll need to head to Theatre Passe Muraille for the too-short run of Stupidhead, Katherine Cullen’s solo musical (with composer Britta Johnson accompanying her on stage) about her lifelong struggles with an unusual form of dyslexia. (Full disclosure: this writer’s brother is the mainstage technician at Passe Muraille, though he’s not credited with any creative input in the show’s program.) Cullen is quick to point out that she has no formal training or exceptional ability as a singer in the introduction to the show, which is closer to a musical stand-up routine than a theatrical play with a “fourth wall.”

While she may not be hired to belt in a Mirvish musical role any time soon, Cullen’s an engaging performer, with a decent sense of musical timing, and a great sense of comedic timing. Her condition, she explains, renders her largely unable to perform mathematics or figure out a sense of direction, and her stories of how she’s learned to cope, even thrive, with her dyslexia are both touching and hilarious. “So what if I get it wrong? No one will die,” she sings early on; indeed, at the performance we saw, she miffed a line in one apparently new tune, but a grinning and supportive Johnson got her back on track. The audience gets to “win” vicariously through Cullen’s continuing determination to put herself out there despite her disability and associated hang-ups, be that dating (a Tinder-inspired number entitled “Dobermans and Nutella” is a stand out), friendships, or working—and there’s some very fine and funny work on display.

Second City’s Everything is Great Again runs indefinitely, Second City Toronto (99 Blue Jays Way), Tuesday–Sunday, various times, $26 and up.

Stupidhead runs to April 2, Tuesday–Saturday 7:30 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 2 p.m., $17–$38.

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