A night at the symphony is known for many things. But laughing until your sides hurt isn’t one of them. The crew at comedy powerhouse Second City aims to change that when they bring their traveling show, The Second City Guide to the Symphony, to the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 4 and 5.
The Second City Guide to the Symphony is a unique mix of sketches, improvisational games that make the audience a part of the show, and of course, classical music performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The nature of improvisation is to be in the moment, creating scenes and characters that didn’t exist seconds prior, so working with prepared music changes the approach the six cast members and host would do for a normal comedy show.
Carly Heffernan, a 10-year veteran of Second City, pulls double duty on the show, serving as both a writer and cast member.
"There’s definitely written scenes that are pitch perfect every night,” Heffernan says. “We’ve got a whole symphonic orchestra underscoring the singers. We’ve got to keep those super tight. These are world class musicians and so they do not miss a beat, nor do they miss a note. But we have some musical improv in the show as well, which is really cool. So you get expert improvisers as well as expert musicians who are musically improvising together, and that’s really, really fun.”
Second City alumnus Matthew Reid works as the musical director and composer for the Second City Guide to the Symphony, overseeing all the original music written specifically for the show. The original music, featured alongside selections from classical composers such as Claude Debussy, completes the vision Second City had when first conceiving the show. That by mixing different performance styles and music into one experience, people who wouldn’t have normally considered attending a symphony are exposed into appreciating a new art form.
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The Second City Guide to the Symphony is an ever-changing production, with the cast incorporating each city's idiosyncrasies and culture, along with the orchestra they perform with, into each show. As events in world affairs and pop culture develop, the cast and writers adopt newer, timelier references into their jokes. This ensures what the audience sees in Dallas will be tailor-made and current, distinct from the performance in the next city.
Heffernan has written and directed a wide variety of shows in her time at Second City, but she says the experience of writing for The Second City Goes to the Symphony has been an especially enjoyable one. During the writing process, Toronto Symphony Orchestra allowed the creative team to sit in on rehearsals and performances, and Heffernan says she found herself inspired by not only listening to the music but also seeing how the music affected the audience.
Parents possibly fearful of exposing the family to adult content should not be dissuaded from purchasing tickets, as The Second City Goes to the Symphony is on the same level as a PG-13 movie. Heffernan doesn’t see it as a challenge or hindrance to perform clean comedy. She says she finds that the environment of a symphony house brings a different level of comedic expectations or sensibilities from the audience, and that paired with her many years of training at Second City have prepared her for any situation.
“There are two things that I find that audiences love more than anything,” Heffernan says. “The number one thing they love is emotion, and emotion couldn’t be more integral to music, so it’s such a beautiful pairing there, and they love physicality as well. So when we get the emotion and physicality going, we don’t have to dig too blue to make them laugh.”