What's New York City's longest-running show? Most people would guess Cats (18 years) or Les Miserables (16). Hardly anybody would mention Chicago City Limits. Chicago? Yep, the comedy troupe has been performing, week in and week out, at its theater in New York for 22 years. Now, that's longevity (though it can't match the granddaddy of them all, the off-Broadway show The Fantasticks, which ran for 42 years). The "Chicago" cast has changed over time, but the structure of the show remains the same.
The format borrows heavily from Second City, the famed Chicago-based improv troupe. But trying to compete with Second City on the group's home turf proved impossible, so Chicago City Limits fled to the greener pastures of New York in 1979, establishing its own theater a year later.
The comparisons between the two Windy City groups don't end there. Like Second City, Chicago City Limits has become something of a cottage industry. It features classes, workshops, and a touring group, so they can keep their NYC string alive while a traveling team of improv experts tours the country. The touring group hit the Broward Center this past Tuesday, and it continues to perform through Sunday.
The best part about improv performances: No two shows are alike. The players field suggestions from the audience, as with the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? Of course, without the added help of editing for television, these live performances avoid being dumbed down. That means they have the opportunity to shock audiences in ways television cannot hope to. The teams from CCL, whose alumni include standup comedians Sean Conroy and Carl Kissen, are, after all, professional improvisers. Whether the theme is clowns or Shakespearean tragedy, chances are they'll come up with something to make you laugh.