REVIEW: Skyline’s the Limit at The Second City Toronto

6 cast members of Skyline's the Limit onstage posing like robots with crazed facial expressions. Red and blue lights behind them.
(L-R) Nkasi Ogbonnah, Andy Hull, Andy Assaf, PHATT al, Jillian Welsh, and Hannah Spear. Photo by Cassandra Popescu.

Much like the past three years, existing in 2023 has so far felt like living in a wind tunnel of bad news. But The Second City Toronto’s mainstage ensemble has taken the experience of being buffeted in the face by never-ending negativity and turned it on its head with Skyline’s the Limit, a comedy revue that had its opening night audience wheezing with laughter from start to finish.

The Second City’s 87th Mainstage Revue has found the sweet spot of political satire. Marking the company’s 50th anniversary in Toronto, Skyline’s the Limit wrestles jokes from topics that dominate the news cycle without falling into cliche or recycling bits from other comedians or late night hosts. While the show claims to cover all the most important topics in Toronto, the material extends far beyond the city’s limits, pulling conversations from both local and international current events. 

From a woman’s brief but impactful battle to exercise her rights over her own body to a devastatingly hilarious bit about Toronto’s objectively confusing recycling regulations, the two-hour sketch comedy show covers both pressing news items and more innocuous local topics. Though the skits vary significantly in length, I was pleased to find that none last too long: in fact, the ensemble explores many of the heaviest topics in the shortest sketches, allowing the jokes to land without bringing down the mood. It’s like throwing tiny truth bombs into the audience, then diving for cover from the explosive laughter. And the ensemble brilliantly avoids some of the more exhausted topics of late: the pandemic was only mentioned once (and briefly), and the former US president didn’t make an appearance at all (despite being indicted that very day). 

The all-star ensemble who wrote and perform the revue consists of six Second City alumni and mainstage performers: PHATT al, Andy Assaf, Andy Hull, Nkasi Ogbonnah, Hannah Spear, and Jillian Welsh. The performers work together beautifully, but there are plenty of opportunities for them to shine as individuals. Spear in particular brings an addictive joy to the stage: her Jim Carrey-esque facial expressions deserve a Dora award of their own. It’s a talent that could become gimmicky if overused, but Spear is a master of calibrating her contortions to each sketch, dialing back in some and going full cartoon in others. 

My favourite sketch of the evening was Assaf’s turn as an abandoned Dell computer buried in Hull’s parents’ basement; it’s the type of weird and wonderful one expects from a Second City revue, and Assaf sells every second of the bit. PHATT al’s leader of an AI army is as horrifying as it is humourous, and his recurring “no” dance elicited howls of laughter from the audience with every increasingly bizarre scenario. Welsh is brilliantly quick with crowd work: her off-the-cuff comments about items of clothing she retrieved from the audience were some of the best of the night. Ogbonnah’s passionate monologue during an adventure into the world of beer-tasting at the Rec Room is over-the-top and side-splitting, and Hull’s revelation about what’s in his basement during a parallel sketch was only one of his top moments of the night. But beyond their individual moments, the cast stuns as an ensemble, with clear chemistry and a sense of effortlessness maintained through the performance.

Fans of The Second City will probably be familiar with award-winning director Kirsten Rasmussen’s work as an actor — they’ve written and starred in three previous revues — but their directorial debut with company proves their comedic prowess extends beyond the stage. The transitions in this show are TIGHT. Despite there being more than 20 sketches, some recurring, Rasmussen and assistant director Darryl Hinds ensure the quick pace of the show doesn’t budge an iota. With blackouts that border on “blink-and-you’ll-miss-them-speed,” thanks to stage manager Matt Keevins, the jokes come fast all night long.

Underscoring the entire event is The Second City Toronto’s longtime musical director Ayaka Kinugawa, a familiar face for regulars of the comedy company. Her impact on the revue cannot be understated: between making small cameos in a number of sketches and crafting pitch-perfect keyboard accompaniment throughout the show, Kinuwaga is a force to be reckoned with. She is perfectly attuned to the performers, matching their pace and energy perfectly throughout the entire show, and keeping things moving along nicely.

The only moments where the show fumbles slightly on opening night are in sketches involving crowd work and audience participation. Though Assaf and Welsh’s journey to the vintage store of audience members’ coats went quite smoothly, a later boxing match sketch stalled slightly as the two individuals pulled from the crowd to act as coaches repeatedly hesitated when asked for suggestions. Rather than vamping or prompting the seemingly shy volunteers, the ensemble waited for their replies, resulting in brief but noticeable pauses in an otherwise fast-paced scene. But despite the recurring hesitance, the ensemble managed to bring the sketch back up to speed each time by committing fully and ridiculously to the suggestions.

Whether you’re looking for a fresh and funny take on the otherwise upsetting daily news cycle or you just want to see a solid piece of sketch comedy, Skyline’s the Limit is a tight and riotous way to spend an evening. With a brand new venue and a wickedly funny ensemble of performers, The Second City remains a strong comedic force in Toronto’s comedy scene: and even after 50 years, the skyline is certainly not the limit.

Skyline’s the Limit runs at The Second City’s new location at One York from March 30, 2023. Tickets are available here.

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Written By

Jessica is a former associate editor at Intermission, as well as a writer, classically-trained actor, and plant enthusiast. Since graduating from LAMDA in the UK with her MA in acting, you can often find her writing screenplays and short plays in the park, writing extensive lists of plant care tips, or working on stage and screen (though she uses a stage name). Jessica freelances with various companies across Canada, but her passion lies in working with theatre artists and enthusiasts.