Tawny Newsome, the most interesting new cast member at the Second City e.t.c., is a reminder that trained theater actors, as distinct from those who merely wish to be funny, are (and always were) the cornerstone of the sketch-comedy form. With striking looks and a just-slightly brittle persona, Newsome naturally gravitates to the high-status characters upon which Second City long has relied.
She can put down a lover ("you dressed as sexy Michelle Obama and you know I was an obese child")," one victimized ex-boyfriend gurgles after an ill-advised Halloween seduction. She can reduce white liberals, who want permission to say "ghetto," to gibbering jellyfish of guilt. As a moody teen, she can cut a parent to the quick. And, in one of the more amusing sketches in the 36th e.t.c. revue, "We're All in This Room Together," she terrifies Mike Kosinski's yuppie parent, a guy trying to get past her admissions director and secure a spot for his eight-year-old at the hyper-competitive University of Chicago Lab School.
"Where's your daughter?" Newsome's character asks. "She's out parking the car," says the dad, hoping that might do it. Alas, no. The kid went to Montessori school and instead of a transcript in her file, there's a macaroni necklace.
All Newsome has to do is gain comedic confidence, feed from the audience, add a few playful twinkles in her eyes and she'll be a sought-after talent in a place where you're pretty likely to get found by the likes of"Saturday Night Live"— whose execs were knocking around Wells Street this week.
Newsome's chief cohort (and, when it comes to authoritarian characters, her opposite) in the best parts of this solidly enjoyable revue is Michael Lehrer, among the smarter, more emotional and angrier actors Second City has had the good sense to hire. Lehrer (who, incidentally, really should be playing Rahm Emanuel), offers up both a deliciously self-loathing song bemoaning women who won't date short guys ("When we got out to eat / I'll use a booster seat") and, in the single best character of the night, a paranoid, mentally unhinged Realtor who provides a deranged window into the fate that awaits guys who handle one too many open houses.
This new revue starts poorly — the opening piece, an underpaced musical number celebrating how Second City has not changed, feels like a cross between a student showcase and a house advertisement. And since it's a bookender, it also messes up the end. But once the cast (which also features returnee Aidy Bryant and newcomers Chris Witaske and Andel Sudik) finds its feet with a tribute to the Romney sons in the style of an Osmond revue, the show finds its edge.
The cast, which mostly is working together for the first time, needs more time to blend. But it's an interesting mix of contrasts: Kosinski is one of those natural Second City worriers, a harried guy with visible veins in his head. Sudik doesn't always carry her weight vocally, but she's the best physical comic on the stage and a decent improviser. And Bryant, who also needs to amp up and the verbosity, has a thing for quirky characters. She just needs to expand her range. Witaske, the showiest of the group, deftly fills out the requisite frat-boy and Chica-gow-dude spot; you could see him working out, too, if he figures out how to go deeper and reveal his insecurities.
For now, and probably only for now, this mostly youthful group is all in this room together in a funny show with two stand-outs who really can act.
"The one percent sucks," says Lehrer, wild eyes blazing. "OK, honey," says an irritated Newsome, "get the whole milk."
When: Open run
Where: Second City e.t.c., 1608 N. Wells St. in Piper's Alley
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Tickets: $23-$28 at 312-337-3992 and secondcity.com