'Second City's American Mixtape' Review: Fair and Balanced Comedy ... to a Point

Given the cultural winds blowing through the entertainment community, Second City’s American Mixtape might be as fair and balanced as one can expect.

The traveling show, playing through June 29 at the Garner Galleria Theatre in Denver, hits both bleeding heart liberals and flyover country denizens. It’s like Saturday Night Live suddenly realized there are two ideological sides available for mockery.

The SNL comparison isn’t accidental. The Second City comedy institution remains a feeder system for SNL casts (Tina Fey, Tim Meadows, Seth Meyers), and American Mixtape’s barrage of music, stand-up and wacky skits feels like that NBC show firing on every cylinder. If only that happened more than once a season.

Yes, put aside the cultural point scoring, and Second City’s American Mixtape is a comic blast. It often relies on lazy liberal assumptions--if you don’t believe in global warming hype you’re a troglodyte, for starters. Still, the quartet of performers is as good as any traveling show might possess, and the laughs are fresh from start to finish.

The show focuses as much on dating tropes as anything else, using the '80s mixtape medium to tie the story strands together. We see shallow men and lonely women flirting in singles bars and laundromats, navigating the dating rituals with pained expressions.

American Mixtape squeezes in confessional moments as well as zany crowd interactions. Its improv sequences prove exhilarating, a blend of prepared bits and spontaneity that proves how mentally nimble this foursome can be. You'll laugh--and applaud their ingenuity.

The performers--Randall Harr, Nicole C. Hastings, Meghan Murphy and Travis Turner--can sing, dance and crack up a crowd. Hastings and Turner could easily assume a spot on the SNL roster. Lorne ... are you listening?

The show doesn’t delve directly into politics. It merely skims the surface without drawing blood. President Barack Obama is name checked but once, and only as a time capsule marker. Instead, the material hits on money corrupting politics, feel-good liberals (“I’m winning at yoga!") and speech codes that shackle the American spirit.

The edges here can be rough, but that’s a welcome texture. The physical comedy, though, is seamless. Consider a bit where Harr romances his sex doll (Hastings) to the tune of Wicked Game. Hastings, her limbs stiff and ready to be moved into position, draws laughs without saying a syllable. Her eyes radiate comic energy, but she never oversells her gifts.

A song blasting the NRA has enough straw men to make President Obama burn with envy, but the focus is more often on the funny, not partisan points.

Second City’s American Mixtape mines humor from obvious but rarely tapped sources. It may lean left, but it's so eager to make us laugh that it puts partisanship mostly aside. In 2014, that's a minor revelation.


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