Comedy Dance Chicago gets mixed results in latest mashup of sketch, physical comedy and song

The pieces speak for themselves, and the group performs best when they adopt a pithy approach.

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Comedy Dance Chicago’s Justin Kimball and Megan Leahey are front and center in “Love Hurts.” (The duo are shown in a performance of the sketch at the Woodstock Opera House.) 

Comedy Dance Chicago’s Justin Kimball and Megan Leahey are front and center in “Love Hurts.” (The duo are shown in a performance of the sketch at the Woodstock Opera House.)

Sylverstudio Photography

The worlds of comedy and dance intersect in ways even the cast members of Comedy Dance Chicago have a tough time articulating.

“It’s hard to explain,” says voiceover narration at the top of the group’s newest show as the cast ceases an interpretive dance and snaps into a kick line.

To be fair, not much of the hour-long show requires an explanation. This new run of Comedy Dance Chicago at the iO Theater zooms in on the types of movement we might encounter in everyday life, reenacting the absurdity with physicality, visual gags and facial expressions as punchlines. The pieces speak for themselves, and the group performs best when they adopt a pithy approach.

Comedy Dance Chicago

comedy dance

When: Fridays, 8 p.m. Fridays through July 28 (no shows June 30 and July 7)

Where: iO Theater, 1501 N. Kingsbury St.

Tickets: $20

Info: ioimprov.com


Consider the lowly three-dot bubble in an iOS text message exchange — in particular, the agony of watching those dots disappear and reappear as the other person composes their thoughts. Company member Drake Shrader enters the stage looking at his phone, composing a message. When it’s sent, three dancers scoot onstage in a line and bend their bodies up and down in sequence. Their intensity increases, Shrader gripping his phone with anticipation; then, all three hunch over and freeze, and Shrader curses the reply he knows isn’t coming. No need for him to connect the dots for the audience; Shrader’s reactions explain the situation well.

The group remains inventive with staging throughout. In one of the standout sketches, Justin Kimball and Megan Leahey stand next to each other as the remaining cast members hold props behind them, including a bed and two lampshades. The composition frames the scene as if viewed from above. “Love Hurts,” croons 1970s rocker Nazareth over the speaker as the dance for a comfortable sleeping position commences, the happy couple contorting their bodies and flailing their arms at each other’s faces inadvertently.

In another number, six dancers in tutus and solid-color pants bend over backwards, revealing that they’ve attached felt eyes and mouths to their rear ends to establish makeshift Muppet vibes. They shake their moneymakers and bounce their feet, presenting a surprising stage picture for the upbeat booty dance. Like many scenes in the show, it establishes its premise, offers a few twists both figurative and literal, and ends on a dime before wearing out its welcome.

Missteps begin to emerge when the group goes meta, such as focusing on wordplay or performing scenes based on the constructs of dance itself. For example, telling a Fozzie the Bear joke in the style of Bob Fosse. Fozzie, Fosse, “Waka! Waka!” indeed. Or, playing Ella Fitzgerald’s “Cheek to Cheek” while dancers press their faces together, then their faces to each other’s butts. These scenes play like an overeager, inexperienced comic asking, “Get it?” after each line.

The group is far more successful when the concepts appear mundane on first blush. When Scott Ray Merchant drops a Twizzler on the ground, claiming the “five second rule” is in effect. The lights go down, the music pumps in, and the cast performs a demonic dance interpreting how germs of all kinds are pelting the poor Twizzler into submission.

This focused approach also benefits the many participatory segments throughout when the audience unwittingly finds itself in the middle of a scene in progress. Two members are recruited for a staring contest, and when it begins, the cast populates the otherwise empty stage with synchronized ribbon dancing and staring of their own.

Though it happens rarely in the show, personal pieces excel as they do on other comedy stages in town. In one of the few talkative scenes, Sarah Beck takes the stage and explains that humans require four hugs a day for survival, eight a day for maintenance, and 12 a day for growth, with “Open Arms” by Journey playing softly in the background. Beck is really behind schedule, she says, and, one by one, solicits eight hugs from the audience. Much later in the show, Beck and Journey return. “I said humans require 12 hugs a day for growth,” she adds. “I think you all know why I’m here.”

The knowing laugh from the audience in this moment feels earned by the scene’s light expositional touch.

Comedy Dance Chicago exposes the fact that movement and physical contact heighten even the most routine of situations, and the comedy works best when it’s mined from a vein that had seemingly run dry.

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