Milwaukee comedy institution Broadminded opened its 23rd original sketch comedy show to a packed theatre Friday night. The theme this time around is Cheers. The all-woman sketch comedy group has been around for many years. The familiarity between the “Broads” continues to foster a fun and crazy feel of intimate informality that makes for an exceedingly enjoyable evening’s comedy. The current offering is a nice mix of different comedy moods. Not all of it works, but since this is a Broadminded show, it’s fun even when it’s not terribly funny.
One of the more notable sketches this time around has McGee and and Babl as anchors on “Wed Center.” They’re there to do play-by-play commentary for toasts at a wedding reception. Kingston played an unflappable pro at delivering wedding toasts while LaDisa played a nervous first-timer. (Opening night the warmth of the near sell-out audience generated a cheer for LaDisa after the end of the sketch when the simple act of picking-up fallen index cards from the sketch turned out to be more difficult than it might have been in rehearsal.) The toast motif is echoed in a series of improv bits where the group deliver toasts to...whatever it is that the audience has offered-up for suggestions on slips of paper into a cup before the show. The “Cheers” motif also echoes into a couple of appearances of the Broads as cheerleaders. There’s a bit of clever style in a short that has Babl being followed around by a pair of rental cheerleaders providing high-energy support for everyday activities. Funny stuff.
The generational aspect of the groups’ work feels particularly prominent this time around. Stacy Babl, Anne Graff LaDisa, Melissa Kingston, and Megan McGee are all Gen Xers. Sketches make fun pop cultural reference to the generation throughout the show. The group does a particularly clever mash-up that has the Care Bears act as Queer Eye-style life coaches. Three of the Broads play pseudo-neo-Jungian Care Bear archetypes trying to get a white collar woman in need into find some direction in her life. There’s profound unexpected depth in that sketch that is echoed through some of the other bits. Megan McGee plays a college student wary of the apocalypse on New Year’s Eve of 2000 as roommates. Her concerns for basic survival are contrasted against the much more superficial concerns of Kingston and Stacy Babl as a couple of roommates, which makes for some fun double-tiered comedy that makes reference to millennial style and fashion which is already feeling A LOT older than it should be. (Hard to believe New Year’s Eve 1999/2000 will be 20 years old at the end of next month.)
Some of the weaker moments draw a bit closer to direct homage to the pop culture of the ‘80s from the perspective of children of the ‘80s. It’s comfort comedy for Xers...a mercifully brief bit has Kingston and McGee play aging singers that feels like a fusion between The Golden Girls and SNL’s Sweeney Sisters. There’s an oddly enjoyable bit that plays on the enduring appeal of a show that ran the length of the ‘80s as all of the Broads fall neatly into a characters from the hit sitcom Cheers. Naturally Kingston takes to George Wendt’s Norm while McGee plays to the role of the John Ratzenberger's trivia-spouting Cliff. Anne Graff LaDisa is fun as a hayseed character drawn in the mold of Woody Harrelson’s character...uh...Woody. (Really? His character was named Woody? I forgot about that.) Like the weaker scripting on that show, the sketch is deeply endearing without actually having much of any depth to it.
Some of the more original bits feel particularly clever in Cheers. McGee plays Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a spoof of Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect singing the Carter Family’s “When I’m Gone,” (the cup song,) complete with the rest of the group performing the cups in accompaniment. It’s a sharply-executed bit of comedy.
The show closes with the triumphant return of LaDisa’s Sally Ann character. The precocious, sci-fi-loving high schooler is drawn against Babl as a cheerleader. It’s a fun closing sketch to a fun show.
Broadminded’s Cheers continues through Nov. 23 at the Underground Collaborative at 161 W. Wisconsin Ave. For more information, visit Broadminded online.