Unhappy the comedy troupe and city that have no heroes. No, unhappy the comedy troupe and city that needs heroes. When thinking about heroes, we can look to Brecht or David Bowie or sketch comedy. A minor-key musical segment, which opens the sparkling new mainstage revue from Second City, despairs of an unnamed land led by a "drug addict" and that is set upon by a police force that shoots people without asking them first. (You may gasp, madam; some of the audience at the opening night for We Can Be Heroes did so.)
The music was reminiscent of the Who's Tommy , which is the story of a Messianic pinball-playing boy. And the worry was that Superman could no longer get super, given that phone booths no longer exist for the required transformation. The resignation? That we can all be heroes, "just without powers."
In front of me in the lineup to the performance were three former Second City cast members. This isn't Saturday Night Live ; Second City people come and go, often with the most talented ones moving on to prime time television commercials. Which brings me to Nigel Downer, the animated and versatile funnyman who, after starring in the company's few previous revues, has left the ensemble.
So, Second City, in need of a new hero. Who steps up for the departed Downer? The answer is the full cast – a snappy bunch, led by the brilliantly watchable and scratchy-voiced redhead Stacey McGunnigle – along with top-notch scripting and directing and a nimble score from Matthew Reid.
Yes, we saw McGunnigle do her thing, elevating a modestly witty bit on door-to-door pollsters with her inspired character creation. (Which, in this case, was a crotchety lady with opinion and wig to spare.) But, mostly, the full cast was at work. The silent movie sketch on a balding man was both poignant and uproarious. And the medieval executioner piece had heads rolling on stage (literally) and bodies doing the same in the aisles (figuratively). You just have to see new guy, Kevin Vidal, do his thing there. Same with fellow newbie Connor Thompson, whose mischievous portrayal of a flapping, cunning bat was another highlight.
Speaking of mannish bats, the production ends as it began, with a musical segment, this time with the un-introverted Jan Caruana fretting about the death of a certain caped crusader. The thinking is that we don't need superheroes to solve our problems, the revue seemingly taking its title from a song by Bowie. He sang that we are nothing and that nothing will help us, but that any of us could be heroes, even if for "just for one day." It adds up.