Recap: Second City skewers the symphony in hilarious Grand Rapids Pops show at LaughFest

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

Classical music is serious stuff.

Bach, Beethoven and the rest of the boys tackled such matters as salvation of the soul and brotherhood of mankind in their music. Mahler, when he composed his symphonies, set out to compose an entire world.

Mahler apparently had a side gig as well, writing jingles to sell blue jeans.

If that never popped up in college music appreciate class, you’ll just have to take Second City’s word for it.

Mind you, no one said Mahler was any good at selling jeans. But Second City was very good at getting laughs.

The legendary improvisatory comedy troupe joined the Grand Rapids Pops in DeVos Performance Hall for “Second City’s Guide to the Symphony.” It was a great night full of laughs.

The Fox Motors Pops series show, which opened Friday, March 16, took a satirical look at symphony orchestras, classical music, musicians, audiences and more. The show held in conjunction with Gilda’s LaughFest repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 17-18. Tickets, starting at $18 adults, $5 students, remain available.

The cast of four men and three women  – Marty Adams, Matt Baram, Ashley Botting, Carly Heffernan, Darryl Hinds, Allison Price and Conner Thompson –entertained with sketches including a first date between a man and a woman who try to impress each other with their breadth and depth of knowledge of classical music only to fail miserably as well as hysterically.

The show also included original songs, which sometimes rose to the caliber of a Broadway musical, including a rap between Johann Sebastian Bach’s sons, Wilhelm Friedrich and Carl Philip Emmanuel, over which is the better Bach. (Spoiler alert: It was another brother from the other mother).

At times, “Second City’s Guide to the Symphony,” reached for a grand metaphor that all of life is a symphony. Or how the personal soundtrack that plays in our heads, incidental music in a film score, can change our mood and behavior.

Other times, it was fundamentally down-to-earth. Such as a couple of concertgoers who arrive late and try to sneak their way into the hall past unsympathetic ushers spoiling for a fight.

Associate Conductor John Varineau led the orchestra in the show as well as participated in several sketches. Assorted topical references to East Grand Rapids, Hudsonville and Frederik Meijer Gardens worked their way into the script along with an actual introduction to several musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony.

The show took a closer look at audiences from season-ticket holders and classical music aficionados to those whose primary motivation for coming to a symphony concert seems to be to cough, unwrap candy or send text messages only with live music in the background.

Humor sometimes was definitely PG-13. A song about the sheer number of great composers who died young, died penniless or died in agony due to a lack of penicillin was decidedly dark.

Second City is legendary for their improvisational sketches. The cast took an idea from the audience for a freewheeling improvisation that called upon them to make up songs on the spot.

The turned out to be beer, particularly beer from Grand Rapids own Founders Brewery, and the made-up songs included improvisation from saxophonist Ed Clifford, trombonist Dan Mattson, double bassist Mark Bucher and percussionist Bill Vits.

It was, at times, a wickedly difficult show to perform. Varineau and the orchestra got several solo moments, playing selections such as the Overture to Mozart’s opera “The Marriage of Figaro.”

With the Second City cast coming from Toronto, a distinctly Canadian undercurrent of humor permeated the show.

“I’ll start out by saying I’m sorry,” host Matt Baram said at the outset. “I don’t know why, it just feels right.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 2:00 PM
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