Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
City of Nutterly Love: Funny as Bell!
Philadelphia Theatre Company's summer offering finds Chicago's esteemed Second City comedy troupe traveling east to see if there's anything in Philadelphia worth making fun of. The answer, fortunately, is yes. City of Nutterly Love: Funny as Bell! doesn't really catch fire until its second half, and even at its best its comedy is hit and missbut fortunately, the hits outweigh the misses.
City of Nutterly Love teams three Second City members (Edgar Blackmon, Rachel Miller and Katie Rich) with three veterans of Philly's own Comedy Sportz troupe (Mary Carpenter, David Dritsas and Eoin O'Shea). The show's big opening number parodies the often superficial treatment that Philadelphia is accorded in the media, and promises a more in-depth skewering from people who really know the city. Does it live up to that guarantee? Not particularlybut that's not necessarily a failing. Taking a skit about a family and adding a reference to "the Boscov's in Plymouth Meeting" just isn't sufficient to give it local flavor. But the cast more than makes up for that in a lovingly absurd skit where macho South Philadelphians argue about what costumes to wear in the Mummers Parade ("Magenta? You expect me to strut up Broad Street in a magenta codpiece? In front of my mother?").
While Second City is known for its political satireit's also producing a show in Washington called Barack Stars, and scored a big hit in Chicago with the musical spoof Rod Blagojevich Superstarthis show's political satire is almost entirely missing. The "topical satire" is typified by a song about the year-old Larry Mendte/Alycia Lane scandal. True, there is a passing reference to last week's Huntington Valley swim club controversy, and there's a joke about Vince Fumo, toowell, at least a joke about his hair. But seemingly easy targets like Governors Rendell and Corzine don't even rate a mention. And a skit about two over-caffeinated advertising workers dreaming up campaign stunts for Mayor Nutter is far too tame.
Many moments are more admirable than funny, like a scene where Dritsas plays a man who answers questions in a job interview with brutal honesty. But a clever skit about a family dealing with the recession works wonderfully, not just because of its relevance but because of incisive characterizations by O'Shea, Dritsas and Miller.
Fortunately, the cast doesn't rely on current events to get them through the night. Most of the skits seem designed mostly to show off the cast's versatility. Blackmon gets lots of laughs as the hip-hop narrator of an Art Museum audio tour, while Carpenter shines as a repressed Main Line socialite ("I'd love to live in the city, but where would I leave my horse?"). And the actors really show what they're made of in the improvisational scenes that have earned Second City its reputation. The best is a scene in which Miller, as an improbable chorus leader, tries to lead the audience in a sing-along version of "America the Beautiful." When she asks who wrote the song, an audience member replies, "Irving Berlin." "Irving Berlin? That's a new one," says a hilariously horrified Miller. (For the record, it was Katharine Bates.)
Scenes like this show what this company does best. The attempts at looking hip and knowledgeable about the city are okay, but it's the moments when the actors drop all that baggage and just have fun that make City of Nutterly Love worth seeing.
City of Nutterly Love: Funny as Bell! runs through July 26, 2009 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. Ticket prices range from $34 to $39 and are available by calling the box office at 215-985-0420, online at www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org, or by visiting the box office.
City of Nutterly Love: Funny As Bell!