Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Second to none?

Posted By on Tue, Jan 13, 2009 at 2:42 PM

When Kwame a River, the show out at Second City-Novi, opened Dec. 31, local reviewers were understandably enthusiastic. Second City’s reputation for local topical comedy got a boost from the amusing spoof of Kwame Kilpatrick and the text-message scandal. But, lost somewhere in the glowing coverage, was the fact that this is not a Second City show at all.

Though the Novi location — for the time being, anyway — retains the Second City name, the Chicago-based company famed for spawning the likes of Bill Murray, Gilda Radner and John Belushi no longer lists Detroit as one of its locations.

Second City-Novi’s general business manager, Lisa Chapman, was frank with me about Kwame, saying, “The show that we’re running right now is not a Second City production. They’re not advertising it because it’s not one of their shows.”

The real Second City, which disbanded its local troupe in spring of 2008, has mostly used its touring companies in the Novi space. Instead of a mainstage company coming up with locally keyed new work, the suburban Detroit location has been operated more as a roadhouse for traveling troupes featuring many out-of-town actors doing material they’d come up with in other cities.

Actually, the mastermind behind the Detroit-themed Kwame is a former metro Detroiter living in Los Angeles. Marc Warzecha, a Second City alum, wrote and directed the show, which will run until March 22. Local theatergoers will be pleased to learn that Warzecha’s cast is composed of local actors, and its inspiration is, of course, 100 percent local. But it’s a one-time deal.

For the most part, the transformation from mainstage to part-time house has been a quiet one. Those involved in the Novi space could be concerned with managing perceptions of a company that is scaling back its operations here; with Second City’s Detroit presence going from a permanent main stage downtown (1993) to a main stage in the suburbs (2005) to a touring house (2008), many may be wondering what’s next for the Novi location.

The news isn’t very encouraging. Second City Vice President Kelly Leonard tells us that after the company disbanded the Detroit troupe, “the game plan then was that we were going to a schedule of producing different kinds of shows at different times. We’re not going to be producing all year long.” Though Leonard says the company will have four shows slated for the year, Second City will not “carry the full load in that space,” but rather go in on a seasonal basis to take advantage of the months audiences are most likely to hit theaters.

Somewhat ominously, Leonard added that Second City will be “transitioning out the name of the building at some point very soon.”

In other words, it will no longer be called Second City.

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