Hybrid Comedy is a Christmas Miracle
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
What do you get when you cross Whose Line is it Anyway with The Second City? Well, you end up with a Christmas miracle happening on Port Hope’s Queen Street.
In lieu of a Christmas panto this year, The Capitol Theatre has opted for a night of improv, appropriately called Miracle on Queen Street. There’s no plot, no script; just a bunch of clever actors making up funny stuff on the fly. On opening night, they offered a hilarious mash-up: The crazy games of Whose Line is it Anyway and the witty sketches of The Second City with a whiff of Saturday Night Live thrown in.
For those unfamiliar with it, Whose Line is it Anyway is an improv TV show, first on British television and then brought to the US. I’ve always loved it as one of the few TV shows that makes me laugh out loud. I am also fiercely proud of Canada’s own Colin Mochrie who is known as the King of Improv, and starred in both versions for many years. I’m still recording and watching old episodes of Whose Line.
Second City is, of course, an improvisational sketch comedy theatre, famous for alumni from its Toronto location, including such comedic greats as Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Martin Short, Mike Myers, Andrea Martin, and Gilda Radner.
So yes, this is the kind of silly nonsense I love. Many times during the evening, I was laughing out loud, even through a Covid mask.
This cast comes with excellent qualifications, all experienced in the art of improv. Some were new to me, some I have seen on the stage at The Second City. Ron Pederson, Rob Baker, Christy Bruce, Jan Caruana, Becky Johnson, and Sharjil Rasool work well as a team, which is especially evident in scenes where one person has to take over where the other person leaves off, and somehow it becomes a nearly coherent story. All six were equally good – as I was watching the show I was thinking “oh, this one’s good,” and then along came the next actor who was just as good.
There is plenty of audience interaction. The actors frequently ask for random words, thoughts or ideas from the audience which they then turn into the premise of a sketch.
One of my favourites from Whose Line is it Anyway is the record promotion. Two people on radio or maybe TV discuss a new collector record album that covers songs about a certain topic and other members of the group sing such a song on the spot. This group had great fun with that idea. Kudos go to accompanist Jordan Armstrong who was spot on with the music.
A sketch idea that I hadn’t seen before was when four actors stood in a box formation and each were assigned a different word to define them. Two would talk to each other about that issue, when suddenly a fifth actor would tell them to move left or right, and they would have to start a new conversation. Sometimes they moved around two spots. Then when they are suddenly shifted back to the previous person, they would have to remember where they were in that conversation.
There were many more hilarious sketches, but there is no use writing about them since they will be so different each night.
On opening night, the “naughty” version was presented, but all the naughty bits came from audience members, which the actors then wove into their scenes. They will also be presenting “nice” versions which are family friendly. I suspect that just means they will have to shut down audience members shouting naughty ideas.
With a talented cast full of great imagination providing lots of opportunities to laugh, Miracle on Queen Street is well worth the visit. I trust they will continue to weave holiday spirit throughout the show, making it a great December outing.
Some people think it is very difficult to for actors to memorize their lines in a script. Well, I think it takes more talent to make up the lines and be funny, right on the spot.
This cast can do that very well!
Miracle on Queen Street continues at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope until December 23, with all Covid protocols in place. Tickets are available at the box office by calling 905-885-1071 or visiting https://capitoltheatre.com/ .
Miracle on Queen Street
Improvisation by Ron Pederson, Rob Baker, Christy Bruce, Jan Caruana, Becky Johnson, Sharjil Rasool
Musical Direction by Jordan Armstrong
Stage Manager – Seann Murray
Capitol Theatre, Port Hope
December 1 to 23, 2021
Reviewed by Mary Alderson