Chicago Theater Review: MIRACLE ON WELLS STREET (The Second City)

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by Samantha Nelson on December 2, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

FRANKINCENSE, MYRRH
AND A FEW LUMPS OF COAL

Exchanging gifts with relatives you don’t know well is always a bit disappointing. Sometimes that aunt or cousin will give you something you really want, but most of the time you’ll find yourself with clothes that aren’t quite your style or size, or a gift card to a place you wouldn’t normally go to. The presents are well-intentioned, but you would have rather gotten something else.

Watching Miracle on Wells Street provides a similar experience. While The Second City’s newest holiday revue offers a few big laughs and plenty of sweet holiday cheer, the jokes too often miss the mark.

In some of the longer sketches, the show just fails to deliver a punchline. A scene with a pushy Macy’s employee trying to make a customer feel bad about buying herself a gift goes way outside the cheerful tone of the rest of the show by making a joke about suicide. Another where a boy’s poor spelling leads to his gift request being delivered to Satan instead of Santa starts out strong – with Lucifer happy to deliver the rabies he requested for his sister – but ends with an incredibly predictable political joke. A scene portraying Rudolph as a murderous thug that bullies all the other reindeer is better in concept than execution because Christine Tawfik can’t muster any realistic menace.

Director Piero Procaccini should have had the cast stick to sketch comedy since improv is clearly not their strong suit. A section where they switch between four scenes as part of an improv game never took off and a part where Kellen Alexander The Second City's MIRACLE ON WELLS STREET.chats with the audience as an aged lounge singer is particularly excruciating.

Given Chicago’s significant Jewish population, it’s also disappointing that the show doesn’t devote a single sketch for Hanukkah. Instead, all of the other winter holidays, including Kwanzaa and some more obscure celebrations, are relegated to a slide show where the only real attempt at humor is some self-referential ribbing between Alexander, Rachel LaForce and Chris Redd about the latter two lying to get out of doing their share of work on the project. Considering that Miracle on Wells Street contains a sketch about researching your date online that has nothing to do with any holiday, it seems like they could have made more room for something to appeal to those that don’t celebrate Christmas.

Despite these failings, the show does have some memorable moments. Stage manager Jayme O’Hara’s set is filled with twinkling lights that make it easy to get into a festive mood. There are two hilarious sketches that see the whole cast singing along to Christmas music in the car only to be interrupted by Siri’s directions, and eventually inviting the digital personal assistant to join in the fun. Musical director Jacob Schuda croons along with LaForce about how excited they are to finally be able to have sex on Christmas. Chris Redd puts a holiday spin on a bit used in The Second City’s South Side of Heaven, having Santa share a disturbing amount of personal information about an audience member on stage that he learned by Googling her.

If you’re entertaining some out-of-towners, Miracle on Wells Street provides a tame, seasonally-appropriate night out. But if you want to give a better gift than your distant relatives do, just get them tickets to see one of The Second City’s other shows.

Miracle on Wells Street
The Second City
Up Comedy Club, 230 W. North Ave.
on the third floor of Piper’s Alley
ends on December 31, 2013
for tickets call 312.662.4562 or visit UP Comedy Club

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