Up next at Second City? A new theater in Piper's Alley

Rendering of Second City's planned Up Comedy Club in Piper's Alley.

Rendering of Second City's planned Up Comedy Club in Piper's Alley. (August 22, 2011)

Despite the famously lengthy titles of its revues, the Second City has come up with a very short name for its new venue in the Piper’s Alley complex on Chicago’s North Side: “Up.”

Intended as a riff on stand-up comedy and the upstairs locale, the two-letter name will signify a new 300-seat theater carved from the space that used to house the long-running production of “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding.” But the ambience, said Second City president Diana Martinez, will be very different from that former pasta-and-comedy attraction.

“We are thinking a lot more upscale and classic, like Mister Kelly’s,” Martinez said, referencing the famous, now-defunct Chicago nighterie. In that mode, the venue will include the famed Booth One (or, more accurately, one of the famed Booth Ones) from another classic Chicago nightclub, The Pump Room, which Second City owner Andrew Alexander purchased during a recent pre-renovation auction at the Ambassador East Hotel.

“Up” is slated to open up officially on Dec. 1.

(The Second City is partner in the Tribune's “Chicago Live!” stage and radio show.)

Second City said Monday that stand-up comedians, programmed by The Improv comedy club, will anchor the space on many weekends. That will put Second City in direct competition with the Zanies comedy club down the street. For the first time.

“Zanies and Second City have been friendly neighbors for 33 years,” said a Zanies spokesman. “Competition is good for everyone.”

Nonetheless, Up is not going to be all stand-up. The first marquee attraction will be a new, scripted show called “Second City’s History of Chicago” created in collaboration with the Chicago History Museum and intended as a tourist-oriented brunch attraction in the vein of the popular gospel brunch at the House of Blues — except that the food on offer at Second City will not be grits and greens but Lou Malnati’s pizza and Vienna hot dogs. Another show in line for the space is “Sex, Love and the Second City,” a scripted piece focused on relationships and romantic travails.

Both of these shows are designed to offer alternatives to the sketch-comedy revues on the mainstage and at the adjacent e.t.c. space, both of which typically sell out on weekends.

The new space, Martinez said, will also allow Second City to expand more into family programming, creating improv shows aimed at children and school groups.

Although it has in the past made some noise about leaving, the development of this new theater cements a dominant role for Second City in Piper’s Alley, which recently lost its AMC Loews movie theater after a 20-year run. Aside from some street-level retail and the parking garage, Second City now rents almost all the usable space in the complex. There are no plans, Martinez said, to take over the former movie theaters.
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