BWW Reviews: BEST OF SHADOWBOX LIVE 2012 is a Columbus Best Bet
Approaching the one year anniversary of moving into their new Brewery District space, it seemed an appropriate time for Shadowbox live to roll out a calm, laidback revue of the past year. However, much like their new edgy warehouse space, the "Best of Shadowbox Live 2012" serves not to relax and reflect, but to accelerate the talent machine that is Shadowbox Live to even higher levels of comedic and musical brilliance.
The house band, Bill Who? led off the evening with The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" including vocals by JT Walker III, Noelle Grandison, Amy Lay, and Katy Psneicka- all veteran performers who individually are each fabulous, and as an ensemble, perfection. Following the opening musical number was the skit, "Inside Man" about a shy guy's (David Whitehouse) attempt to date a pretty girl (Nikki Fagin). Also onstage are his heart (Jimmy Mak), Brain (Matt Hahn), and Libido (Julie Klein) in a hilarious portrayal of the shy guy's inner dialogue between the three. Billy DePetro gives the end of the scene an additional comedic "lift", and the wittiness of the dialogue throughout is quite fun.
Back to the music, Jennifer Hahn was up next on lead vocals for Alannah Myles' classic "Black Velvet". This was a sultry, sexy number with a simple, but perfect set, low lighting, and rock-solid vocals by Hahn and her back-up, the ever enchanting Stacie Boord.
Julie Klein followed as Gracie in "Doll Counseling", in which she played a little girl counseling Barbie (Amy Lay) and Ken (JT Walker III) through Ken's suspicion that Barbie has had an affair with G.I. Joe (Billy DePetro). Klein's spunky and sassy Gracie paired with the stiff-armed Barbie and Ken make for a Toy Story gone wrong comedic genius. Shadowbox does a fabulous job at exploiting stereotyped characters, and this is no exception.
"Battle Stations" was a dialogue-free sketch of a couple feuding via the flipping of radio stations while driving. Each sound byte of a song characterized a part of their argument, with Stacie Boord's facial expressions hilariously berating JT Walker as the in-the-doghouse significant other. "Faithfully", he continues flipping radio stations until he manages to win her back.
A triple guitar rendition of Joe Satriani's "Surfin' with the Alien" by Matt Hahn, Chris Lambert and Dante Wehe gave me whiplash to watch, but was pretty impressive musically.
Stev Guyer as "The Fairy Godfather" shows up next to make all of Cinderella's (Amy Lay) dreams come true. This was a well-written sketch, including BranDon Anderson with a funny bit as the Tailor- the only distraction being that the "godfather" lost his much-needed accent mid-sketch. None-the-less, the Godfather agrees to send Cinderella to the ball, as long as someday, he can "call on her for a favor".
Then, Stacie Boord is back with a gorgeous version of Duran Duran's "Ordinary World", with background vocals by Kara Wilkinson, Noelle Grandison, and Tom Cardinal. Ms. Boord is one of the most enigmatic performers, typically refusing to let any audience member passively enjoy the show. However, this number was an understated, simple one that just showcased what a vocal powerhouse she continues to be.
The sketch, "Passion Hospital" was a take on those ridiculous, clichéd, over-acted soap operas in with Mary (Amy Lay) and patient John's (David Whitehouse) relationship is complicated my Dr. Creamy (JT Walker III) in English, Spanish, and perhaps most funny, Russian. Under the Director's (Mary Randle) guidance, hilarity is bound to ensue.
Closing out Act I was an unexpected treat- Linkin Park's "In The End" with lead vocals by the lovely Noelle Grandison and impressively good David Whitehouse. A funky, yet beautiful, almost lyrical-style dance number included Amy Lay, Katy Psenicka, Nikki Fagin, JT Walker III, Stev Guyer, Edelyn Parker, and Robbie Nance. I loved this number, as it was stylistically so different from the rest of Act I. Kudos to Shadowbox for always leaving the audience guessing as to what awaits next, only the guarantee that it will never be what you expect!
Act II opened with JT Walker III, Julie Klein, BranDon Anderson, and Stacie Boord on Prince's "Purple Rain", backed by the entire company. Vocally, the number was electrifying, but it was an odd, slow and somewhat somber way to lead off the act.
Amy Lay was up next with another child-centered sketch involving 7 year old Shannon reporting her opinion on the 80's classic movie "Dirty Dancing". Maybe I had seen two many child-led sketches already, or maybe the movie reference was just out-dated enough to no longer get my attention, but I found this to be an unnecessary piece, and only mildly amusing, despite being well-acted.
I probably should have had a Red Bull about this time of the 10:30pm start time show, I suppose, as the next sketch, "Sperm Dating" with Betsy Shortt as an "Ova" being courted by a variety of sperm, including Billy DePetro's "Jock Sperm", Jamie Barrow's "Nerd Sperm", JT Walker III's "Dr. Semen", and BranDon Anderson's "Good Sperm" was also well acted, but only mildly amusing. Even Robbie Nance's "Stoner Sperm" was funny, but predictable enough not to be uproarious.
Amy Lay's vocals on "Where The Streets Have No Name" by U2 were enough to perk me back up, but the costume choice looked a little like Katniss Everdeen gone wrong and her giant walking stick prop was distracting. Back to expecting the unexpected, it just didn't work as well this round.
Leave it to Julie Klein to bring me back with a quiet, somber sketch, "Long Way Home" in which a woman enroute to her ex-lover's house gets redirected by her GPS system, ending up where she should be- at her own home. It was funny, but sweet, and Klein has a wonderful ability to be understated when needed, while being equally delightful in hilariously slapstick.
"Political Figures of Speech" was a satirical look at a candidate (Stacie Boord) and what can happen when her speech writing Campaign Manager (Noelle Grandison) loses her focus.
Stev Guyer followed with The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes", another number that was vocally genius. Guyer has always been a rockstar vocalist and it was so nice to see him in his element again. This was a great song choice for him and he delivered it expertly.
The "Best of Shadowbox 2012" closed with a whole company, over-the-top, political statement in "Grand Illusion" by Styx, with Julie Klein and Stacie Boord on vocals. This number was the perfect choice to wrap up a fabulous evening.
I was completely hooked, as this was such a throwback to the old Shadowbox caberet days, complete with some of my favorite original performers. However, it was absolutely exhilarating to see how brilliantly Shadowbox has evolved, while staying true to its original form. I was particularly taken by how effortless they make such incredible entertainment look, and even at the 10:30pm late show, the energy and enthusiasm was contagious. Shadowbox Live continues to just get better and better. I left wondering that if this was the "Best of Shadowbox Live 2012" , how in the world will they top this? If the progression thus far in any indication, not only do you want to get down to Shadowbox for the "Best of Shadowbox Live 2012", you might just want to clear your calendar for the 2012-13 Shadowbox season now….
The "Best of Shadowbox Live 2012" runs at The Shadowbox Live theater at 503 S. Front Street Columbus, Ohio 43215 on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and 10:30pm now through September 8th. Go to: www.shadowboxlive.org for tickets and additional information.
PHOTO CREDIT: Shadowbox Live