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August 1, 2014

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Consistent change keeps Second City fresh, funny

Who: Second City

When: 8 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, 8 and 10 p.m. Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The Tuesday shows are scriptless. Dark Wednesdays.

Where: Flamingo's Second City Theater

Tickets: $49.95; 733-3333

For the first four years after its arrival in Las Vegas the local company of the famed Second City improv theatre was on a short leash, held firmly in the grip of the Chicago headquarters.

Scenes were largely taken from the files of past shows that were proven successes.

"In the early years we basically were doing the 'Best of Second City' shows," said Brooke Schoening, supervising producer in Vegas. "We were careful about not trying to push the envelope too far."

The troupe, with an entirely different cast, arrived in 2001.

Today the Vegas version of Second City has been unleashed, for the most part.

Producers from Chicago still come out a couple of times a year for quality control, to check up on the still-young production. But the local cast now has more freedom and is putting on productions that are funnier and edgier than ever.

"We have started pushing that envelope," Schoening said. "Audiences are responding very well to us doing that, which is great because that's our M.O. That's what we traditionally do. We push that envelope, make the satirical comment on things happening today, especially political and social commentary themes."

The show is built on a series of scenes and intermittent blackouts, all of which delve into relationships, into the human condition, into politics, religion and sex.

There aren't many taboos in this City.

There's the husband (Ryan Archibald) and wife (Shelly Gossman) in bed arguing because he took Viagra without first consulting her. The effect of the drug is hilariously obvious, and so is Archibald's frustration at his wife's refusal to give him relief.

And there's the helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon in which a homicidal pilot (Craig Uhler) goes into a nose dive and threatens to crash if the passengers don't start having meaningful conversations.

An autistic-like child (Archibald again) suffers from Karaokensan's Disease - he can communicate only by singing karaoke.

Gossman and Katie Neff are elderly women dining out and talking sweetly to waiter Paul Mattingly to his face, but revealing a mean streak in their personalities when his back is turned.

The cast creates much of its own material.

"Ultimately the local director (Jim Carlson) and cast are given an enormous amount of freedom to try anything they want," Schoening said.

The show now changes completely every year. The latest transformation was revealed in June. The changes are gradual - taking two or three months.

It starts with meetings in which ideas are developed and fleshed out and then rehearsed and gradually introduced into the existing show a bit at a time.

"Each night, while they are still performing the old show they are slowly sucking out pieces from that show and putting in some new things to test," Schoening said.

It's a complicated process. Scenes are tested and rejected or included as a permanent part of the new revue.

"For about the first half of the process it's a little bit of old with a little bit of new each night," Schoening said, "until all of the old material is gone and only the new remains. Then, basically, it's a matter of figuring out what of the new material really works, is strong, and is going to stay."

There have been many cast changes during the past six years. The latest group has been together nine months or longer and is among the most talented of the performers. All had a hand in creating the latest revue.

"They had a good idea of what the audiences go for and what they don't go for, how far we can push the envelope," Schoening said. "They had that experience going in."

Second City is full of energy and moves at a fast pace the entire 70 minutes.

Most of the shows generally follow a script, with a little improv added to the mix. For those who prefer more improv, Tuesday night performances are unscripted.

"Vegas audiences definitely love the improv, which is why one night a week is dedicated to an all-improvised format," Schoening said. "But it's hard for one cast to sustain that on a nightly basis."

But it doesn't seem hard for Second City to sustain the laughs.

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