After drawing large crowds to Centerstage early this year with a Baltimore-spoofing blend of scripted skits and improv comedy, a famous troupe from Chicago has returned with a sequel featuring brand-new material. Although "The Second City: Charmed and Dangerous" creatively verges on succumbing to a case of sophomore slump, it's still a funny show.
Created by the on-stage performers along with Ed Furman and Tim Sniffen, the new show earns points for keeping up with local news headlines since the first visit. That means you'll hear jokes about the recent mayoral primary election, Grand Prix car race, events marking the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and other items that make life interesting in the quirky city.
As with the first show, however, there is a tendency to quickly drop names and not always fully follow through on the comedic possibilities.
There's a very promising sketch, for instance, in which Second City impersonates the Baltimore-based water ballet company named Fluid Movement and then choreographically parodies Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other mayoral candidates in the recent primary election. Unlike a well-researched satirical sketch that would explore the actual personalities involved, this brief sketch makes an admittedly hilarious joke about the mayor and quickly ends on that line.
If some of the sketches benefit from such brevity, others would be better if they did more than riff on the headlines and instead humorously analyzed our provincial culture. The evening's inevitable stop-and-go nature is not necessarily a problem, but it is a bit of a problem that so many of the skits feel hasty.
By contrast, there are a few somewhat longer and more accomplished sketches that show off this company's skills as quick-witted writers and performers. A song-punctuated spoof of the power wielded locally by Johns Hopkins is funny because, well, it speaks truth to power. The jokes and song lyrics are clever throughout this segment.
An especially amusing moment involves the owners of a modest rowhouse being told that they are losing their home to the ever-expanding Hopkins medical campus in East Baltimore. And as a comic kicker, the jokes told about Hopkins are supplemented by jokes aboutMercy Medical Center.
Any comedy company that ribs hospitals clearly is not afraid to go after the most powerful players in the local landscape. Yes, even the late Gov. William Donald Schaefer gets invoked in a do-it-now-themed scene set in heaven.
Although these routines are all newly crafted for the company's return engagement and, of course, the audience-participatory improv skits are new every night, much of the local reference-reliant material basically feels recycled.
Let's face it. How many jokes can you tell about crabs? How many cracks can you make about the distinctive characteristics of such Baltimore neighborhoods as Hampden, Fells Point and Roland Park?
What makes the hilarious and not-so-hilarious skits more or less cohere is that the current cast members, none of whom appeared here last time, are having such a good time that it spreads to their satirical targets, which means, umn, us.
Working under director Matt Hovde and greatly assisted by the nimble and versatile music director Matthew Loren Cohen, the company members certainly are eager to please. That means you won't mind being made fun of by Cody Dove, Ryan Archibald, Ric Walker, Brooke Breit, Lili-Anne Brown and Chelsea Devantez.
In making Baltimore generally come alive on stage, these good-natured comedians are not helped any by the set behind them. When the company appeared here early this year, the wonderfully evocative set design by Jennifer Stearns was anchored by Formstone-clad rowhouse facades.
Although it probably would have been too predictable if this sequel merely spun variations on those pink flamingo-flanked rowhouses, Daniel Ettinger's set design for "Charmed and Dangerous" is dominated by several house facades whose eclectic architectural elements don't cohere into anything you're likely to find on local streets.
The odder elements of this urban twilight zone design include a large wood bin mysteriously placed in front of a house; and also a high fence whose graffiti-covered wood surface is so gently faded that it resembles a tastefully abstract painting. Subdued graffiti in Baltimore? I don't think so, hon.
"The Second City: Charmed and Dangerous" runs through Oct. 16 at Centerstage, 700 N. Calvert Street in Baltimore. Tickets are $10 to $50. Call 410-332-0033 or go to http://www.centerstage.org/charmed.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun