Second City serves up the fun with a trippy mashup of holiday classics in Twist Your Dickens

Ever wonder where the misfit toys went after Santa took them off the island? How about that original ending to A Charlie Brown Christmas that the network execs didn’t want you to see? And how Oliver Twist became an activist?

Wonder no more, my friends. For this holiday season, Second City presents Twist Your Dickens. Written by former The Colbert Report writers Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort, and directed by Chris Earle, with music direction by Ayaka Kinugawa, it’s running right now at the Greenwin Theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

If you’re looking for a straightforward comedic retelling of A Christmas Carol, you ain’t getting it here. Starring Seán Cullen and Patrick McKenna, and featuring award-winning Second City alumni Jason DeRosse, Nigel Downer, Sarah Hillier, Karen Parker and Allison Price, Twist Your Dickens plays with sketch comedy and improv as it weaves other classic holiday favourites with Dickens’ famous Christmas tale, twisting and turning the storytelling—and the fun—in wacky, unexpected ways. Think secret Santa at the Fezziwigs’ office Christmas party; Tiny Tim’s sleepover; Oliver Twist’s orphan protest.

Karen Parker, Sarah Hillier & Patrick McKenna in Twist Your Dickens – all photos by Paul Aihoshi

Leading this wacky band of performers, Cullen gives us a deliciously nasty and darkly funny Scrooge; callous and money grubbing, with hints of the Grinch, he has a game, child-like quality—which comes in handy on his journey with the ghosts. McKenna does a fabulous job, juggling several supporting characters, including the woebegone Jacob Marley; the chains he forged in a miserable life linked with confessions shared by audience members, inspiring a round of hilariously bizarre improv. McKenna also does a hysterically hyper-cheerful (or is he?) Fred, Scrooge’s nephew; he does a mean Jimmy Stewart George Bailey too.

Rounding out the ensemble is a fine group of sketch comedy/improv performers. DeRosse is Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s put-upon but faithful clerk (or is he?); he gives a stand-out performance as Linus in the alternate ending for A Charlie Brown Christmas, as the gang reacts to his speech at the school Christmas pageant. Karen Parker plays Mrs. Cratchit, Bob’s supportive wife who can barely stand to tolerate Scrooge—and has some interesting suggestions on that score. And she shines with the song stylings of Ruby Santini, delivering her own personal, hilariously inappropriate take on classic Christmas songs during a recording session (featuring McKenna as her baffled, stressed out producer). Hillier plays Tiny Tim, with a decided twist; this kid may be schlepping along with an ill-fitting crutch, but he’s no wilting wallflower.

Seán Cullen & Sarah Hillier in Twist Your Dickens

Downer calls out the show’s obvious and not so obvious anachronisms as the Heckler; and does an awesome job as the rad, energetic Ghost of Christmas Past. And Price is hilarious as the drunken party girl Ghost of Christmas Present and the prankster Ghost of Christmas Future.

With shouts to the design team Jackie Chau (set), Melanie McNeill (costume) and Christina Cicko (lighting), and stage manager Andrew Dollar.

Second City serves up the fun with a trippy mashup of holiday classics in Twist Your Dickens.

Twist Your Dickens continues in the Greenwin Theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until December 30. Get your advance tix online; for group discounts (8 plus), call THE Group Tix Company 647-438-5559, outside GTA 1-866-447-7849 or visit the group box office online.

Second City Toronto brings big-time LOLs in The Hotline Always Blings Twice

The Hotline Always Blings Twice ensemble: Kevin Whalen, Leigh Cameron, Kyle Dooley, Kirsten Rasmussen, Becky Johnson & Etan Muskat – photo by David Leyes

Second City Toronto opened its new sketch comedy show The Hotline Always Blings Twice this week and I caught the show last night, with a packed, enthusiastic house – the audience liquored up just the right amount of silly and ready to laugh. After all, it’s a holiday weekend and Thursday is the new Friday. Directed by Chris Earle, assisted by Karen Parker, with music direction by Lee Cohen, the show was written and performed by an ensemble of kick-ass comedic talent: Leigh Cameron, Kyle Dooley, Becky Johnson, Etan Muskat, Kirsten Rasmussen and Kevin Whalen.

Muskat kicked off the show with a poke at the Trump campaign and what it means for Canada in an inspired and edgy opening monologue. The brilliant ensemble covered so many funny bone feels, delivering sharp political satire and hilarious social commentary in two sets of smart, physical and fearless sketch comedy, and a final set of wacky fun improv.

Leigh Cameron & Kevin Whelan – photo by Racheal McCaig

Stand-out moments include Johnson and Dooley in the Frosh Week sketch, where a guy and a gal arrive at his apartment to take a break; she’s been on a three-day bender and wants to keep partying – and he just wants her to leave. Then there was the sharp, bang-on vintage film noir-inspired faceoff between an Uber driver (Dooley) and a taxi driver (Whalen) over a lovely passenger playing hard to get (Cameron). The entire ensemble did a hysterical rock star status love-in for Justin Trudeau, featuring Rasmussen doing a hard rock number ballad and Dooley, as Justin, with an electro soul platform love song. Opening the second act was a hysterical grade two talent show, with Cameron, Johnson and Rasmussen playing a classic range of kid performers, and Muskat, Dooley and Whalen – placed throughout the audience – playing their respective doting, helicopter dads. Muskat, Rasmussen and Dooley did a fabulous job with a hilarious twist on the third wheel in the insightful blind date sketch. And the gang pulled off some awesome physical comedy in the Facebook unfriending sketch (Rasmussen and ensemble), and the mischievous spirits in the psychic sketch (Muskat, Johnson and ensemble), as well as some impressive and funny music bits (Cameron and Rasmussen were stand-outs with their vocals).

Whalen, Muskat, Johnson & Dooley, with Rasmussen in front – photo by Racheal McCaig

All this, followed by a third set of improv, where the cast busted it out the funny, guided by audience suggestions for sage advice: “Don’t eat yellow snow” and “Everything happens for a reason.” Pee eating! Obsession! Animatronic Jesus!

With shouts to the sound operator and stage manager Meg Maguire for the amazing backup work.

Film noir Uber! Justin Trudeau love-in! Animatronic Jesus! Second City Toronto brings big-time LOLs in The Hotline Always Blings Twice.

For show times and tickets, check online here.