BWW Reviews: Shadowbox Live's VAMPIRES Is Something to Sink Your Teeth Into
The creative genius that is Shadowbox Live in downtown Columbus' Brewery District, opened its original production Stage 2 production, "Vampires" , August 23rd, with all of the thrills, chills, and mind-blowingly good talent of its previous shows, blending its grungy rock-band core with fabulous music and dance. While vampires certainly seem to be en vogue these days, Shadowbox never blindly follows pop culture, and this sexy, supernatural show is not for the Team Edward crowd. With numbers from the likes of Queensryche, Blue Oyster Cult, and Nine Inch Nails, Shadowbox blends industrial metal music with beautiful contemporary dance to tell the story behind various aspects of life as a creature of the night.
Beginning with "Ambush" from Stev Guyer's "Evolution", the stage came alive with vampires of all sorts, writhing onto the stage from the audience as well in wickedly devilish costumes, to induct victims Leah Haviland and Stacie Boord into their coven. The costumes were a lovely mix of Victoria's Secret gone paranormal, and Goth creating an effect that was enticingly evil. "Scary Monsters" by David Bowie, was performed next by the lovely and superbly talented Edelyn Parker, but I found this song choice unimpressive for such a tremendous voice, and it seemed to slow the intensity of the show following the dynamic first number. "Devolution", another number from Stev Guyer's original "Evolution" followed, but it wasn't until the generally somber, "Possession", by Sarah MacLaughlin that I was drawn back in to the depth of the performance again. With Stephanie Shull on lead vocals and Stacie Boord backing her, this number was hauntingly beautiful, Boord providing the perfect sweet, soulful undertone to the heavier-voiced Shull's lead. Katy Psenicka's expert choreography shines throughout the largely dance-featured show, but is particularly well-done in this number with a freeze-frame sort of montage that really depicted the "soul" of a vampire struggling over taking her victim's life. Also from "Evolution"-"Surveillance", with another amazing talent, Julie Klein, on lead vocals was up next. Nikki Fagin was fabulous as the victim to Stacie Boord and Katy Psenicka's vampires. Fagin is a beautiful dancer, as are Boord and Klein, a captivating contrast between the embodiment of fear and the calculated evil of the vampiress killers.
Leave it to Noelle Grandison to blow the roof off with the next two numbers, Stabbing Westward's "Save Yourself", and an insanely good interpretation of Alanis Morissette's "Uninvited". Grandison has such a great belt, with the perfect mix of soul and rasp and it added to the electricity of the Elizabethan costumed vampire dance number, a surprisingly delightful change from the earlier back-alley grunge vampire scene. The Countess Bathory (Katy Psenicka) directs servant dancers (Andy Akrom, JT Walker III, David Whitehouse, and Jamie Barrow) to induct her victims (Betsy Shortt, Edelyn Parker, Renee Horton, Nikki Fagin, and Amy Lay) through a waltzing dance number that is eerily beautiful, seductive, and elegant. Boord was up next with lead vocals on The Deftones' "Change in the House of Flies", an equally electric dance number with new vampire, Amy Lay, going through the transformation to immortality under the guidance of Boord. JT Walker II on lead vocals of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" brought the tone down a little softer in preparation for Amy Lay's rendition of "Sour Times" by Portishead, both of which were somber and slower, but allowed the audience to catch its breath from the intensity of the previous numbers. Act I closed with one of the most beautiful dance numbers of the evening, featuring the stunning Renee Horton as a new vampire, with the ensemble in masquerade costumes dancing her through her induction. Another elegant, and eerily gorgeous performance.
Act II opened with another odd song choice, Elton John's "Madman Across the Water", sung well by lead vocalist Stacie Boord again, but the rendition was so mellow that much of the audience continued talking upon return from intermission, to my dismay, oblivious to the talent onstage, as the song choice proved more background accompaniment than attention-getting feature to open the act. Fortunately, the next two numbers- "Pardon Me" by Incubus, and "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" by Smashing Pumpkins, were sung by grunge-rock vocal queen, Nikki Fagin, (the former of which was assisted by awesomely good vocals by James Barrow as well) and the house was once again all-eyes-and-ears on the stage. The second song choice was a particularly rocking vocal that brought back much of the energy lost by the quieter act opener. Leah Haviland covered Nine Inch Nails' "The Only Time" next, and the vocals were good, however the vampire girls- Stacie Boord, Nikki Fagin, Renee Horton, Amy Lay, Edelyn Parker, and Katy Psenicka along with men David Whitehouse, Jamie Barrow, Andy Akrom, and JT Walker III were so entrancing that I found myself losing track of the song to watch them dance. Maybe it's my Catholic school upbringing, but the gratuitous killing of a nun during the scene was distracting, over-the-top, and unnecessary, unfortunately a disappointment to an otherwise really great number.
Another beautiful vocal rendition by Stacie Boord of Phil Collins' classic "In The Air Tonight" was terrific musically, but I never really understood where Katy Psenicka was going with her vampire character struggling with looking in a mirror in this number. I am no vampire expert, but I'm pretty sure vampires don't have reflections, yet the entire song was spent with the character agonizing over herself in a mirror. Psenicka is brilliant, but the choppy, repetitive choreography was lost on me on this one, sadly. An interesting leap to the next song proved a nice surprise, as Stephanie Shull delivered a surprisingly good rendition of the tricky Beatles' "Helter Skelter" that fit really well in the show's context. Another really pleasant surprise was rock god Stev Guyer's version of Nine Inch Nails' "Something I Can Never Have". While Guyer is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser with unfailingly great vocals, the dance interpretation of his character being the vampire that had turned Amy Lay's Claudia, and her love/hatred of him subsequently, was a thought-provoking and graceful switch.
The evening ended with Boord and Shull on Pink Floyd's "Great Gig in the Sky", and again with Stev Guyer on Gerard McMann's "Cry Little Sister". Both of which were nice numbers, the last particularly so, as Stev Guyer's hair screams head vampire, and when in full vampire regalo as well, his vocals bringing the ensemble together to end the show were quite fitting.
Shadowbox Live continues to amaze me. Maybe it's the fact that they crank out over 500 shows a year of consistently high-caliber entertainment. Maybe it's the fact that the lead vocalist may just have brought my dessert to my table or cleaned bathrooms before stepping on stage, as this ensemble does it all in-house. Maybe it's the fact that for all of the grueling hours they put in, the core group of performers here keep coming back, keep stepping up their games, and keep delivering rock solid performances show after shoW. Maybe it's just Stev Guyer's hair. Whatever it is, I'll say it again, if you haven't been to Shadowbox Live, you are missing one of the best, most unique entertainment options in Columbus, and Vampires is the perfect place to sink your teeth in.
"Vampires" runs at The Shadowbox Live theater at 503 S. Front Street Columbus, Ohio 43215 on Wednesdays and Thursdays only at 7:30pm, September 6, 12-13, 26-27, October 3-4, and 10-11th. Go to: http://www.shadowboxlive.org%20 for tickets and additional information.
PHOTO CREDIT: Shadowbox Live