Second City, the world's most famous live comedy theater, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, which will inevitably lead to reminiscing about its past glories. Its newest sketch comedy revue, "Taming of the Flu," is a lot of fun, but falls a bit short of glory.
The company's revues take the form of six actors performing two acts' worth of written scenes followed by an improvised set. Like most of its predecessors, "Flu" puts a dual focus on both local and global events, some of the funniest moments are those that will be funniest to Chicagoans: a dialogue between two bicycle cops, a beautifully done musical number about Chicago winters, and glimpses of company member Andy St. Clair's hilariously apathetic Mayor Daley. Bits about the national scene and all its miseries, wars and economic catastrophes are a bit less effective, as they seem undeveloped and scattered. Some sketches last only 15 seconds, not enough time for their jokes to land.
Second City's last golden age came in the late 1990s, when it produced classic, thematically linked "long form" revues like "Pinata Full of Bees" and "Paradigm Lost." The company seems to have shifted away from that structure - which may well be for the best, as anything becomes formulaic eventually, but it still needs to find some fresher ways of presenting their material.
This show has a lot of laughs, to be sure, but not the kind of cathartic, mind-expanding laughs that truly great satire can produce. Still, this is a good cast, one likely to get better as time goes on.