Taking it’s cue from Santa, Shadowbox Live (a Columbus-based rock ‘n’ roll and sketch comedy troupe) is on overdrive this holiday season. They’re currently presenting two showcases: their annual “Holiday Hoopla” and “Scrooge,” a rock ‘n’ roll remake of the 1992 musical. Check out my reviews of both below:
Holiday Hoopla XX
For their 20th anniversary of fine-turned holiday outrageousness, Shadowbox Live decided to mix things up by turning their typical bawdy holiday sketches into a linear full length theatrical production.
The elements of a typical Hoopla were all there, the consumer parody, the pop culture/political spoofs, that quintessential Shadowbox laugh-a-minute comedic timing and Shadowbox house band BillWho?’s rock-tastic take on the holiday classics. Head Shadowbox writer Jimmy Mak’s popular character Dasher, the precision-crazed military reindeer, even makes an appearance. And, of course, the Santa Babies are there to close out the show as only they know how.
But instead of presenting a series of sketches in their normal style, Stev Guyer, Shadowbox founder and director, infuses all these elements into a two-act play. A sort of adult spoof on the popular holiday movie, “The Year Without a Santa Clause,” act one finds Santa (David Whitehouse) getting wasted at a bar declaring that Christmas this year is canceled. Using a series of flashbacks, Santa takes the bartender (Mary Randal) and a bar regular (John Boyd) through the unfortunate events that leads him to such a decision. An elf strike led by a temperamental elf named Shorty (Noelle Grandison), followed by bankruptcy and an attack in the media by the religious right, featuring a hilarious conservative senator spoof by Robbie Nance.
In act two Santa gives himself over to the corporate machine to fix his image and a telethon is thrown to help with his financial downfall (featuring local news media celebrities Andrea Cambern, Jym Ganahl, Johnny DiLorretto and even ColumbusUnderground.com founder Walker Evans in a hilarious video sketch). The “Clausathon” is hosted by Mak’s always sarcastically slick Casey Kasem and features inspired impersonations of Lady Gaga, New Kids on the Block, Keith Ricahards and even Ozzy Ozborne.
BillWho? acts as the bar’s and the telethon’s entertainment, breaking up the dialogue with stellar performances of “Father Christmas” by The Kinks and “Christmas in Sarajevo” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. However, the BillWho? highlight for me is their version of “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” a rendition that always gives me goose bumps.
I actually think the way Shadowbox executes the show this year was pretty brilliant. The Shadowobx Holiday Hoopla is always something to look forward to in Columbus each year, a fact Guyer and his team are well aware of. But this year, instead of fully placating to the masses, they decide to take their age-old style and infuse it with fresh creativity.
There are a couple of missteps in the new process. Randal’s Ozbourne-inspired “I Am Santa Clause” goes totally off the rails (I’ve never quite liked Shadowbox when they head more towards the metal end of the rock spectrum). However, Kasem’s witty comment after her performance indicates it was meant to be a joke, but ultimately I’m not sure if the overly goth showcase is meant to be taken seriously. I hope not.
Also there are more than a couple of off-color gay jokes that took me by surprise. Santa takes some stereotypical jabs at his flamboyant, and newly out of the closet, assistant and there is a “Brokeback Mountain” joke that made myself and my guest cringe. But calling Shadowbox homophobic would be like calling Bill Clinton racist. There support of the LGBT community in Columbus is well documented. Hopefully this is just a one-time creative blip.
Despite the latter, Holiday Hoopla is definitely on par, or even better, than any Hoopla I’ve experienced in recent years. Definitely take the time this season to head to the Brewery District for Shadowbox’s always unique and enjoyable brand of holiday humor.
“Holiday Hoopla XX” runs at Shadowbox Live (503 S. Front Street, Columbus) Tuesdays through Thursdays (and Monday Dec. 19) through December 20. Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students/seniors. For more information visit www.shadowboxlive.com.
Shadowbox has never been a place for young children. This is a fact on which the troupe has mostly staked its claim, presenting risqué rated R humor for adults who for years have gladly lined up babysitters for a night out at The ‘Box.
However, with their adaptation of the 1992 Leslie Bricusse musical “Scrooge,” they are, for the first time, offering a family show the kids can enjoy. Their rock-tastic rendition is still full of heart and hilarity whilst still keeping a PG angle.
When I heard Shadowbox was doing a family-friendly show, I have to admit I had my doubts. I love this place because of their envelope-pushing repertoire. This kind of show seemed like it was going in the complete opposite direction. But Shadowbox definitely rose to the occasion. They kept true to their comedic and musically poignant roots, by presenting a well-reworked version of the classic Charles Dickens tale from top to bottom.
Director Stev Guyer makes a few changes to the story, revamping the characters by switching Scrooge’s assistant Cratchit from Bob to Barbara, Tiny Tim to Tiny Tina and Jacbo Marley to Jackie Marley. He also taps into the needs of the child attention deficit psyche by allowing husband-wife rock duo Matthew and Jennifer Hahn (band leaders of Shadowbox Live’s house band BillWho?) to transform the Bricusse score into a credible list of splashy pop-rock arias. Company numbers “Father Christmas,” “December the Twenty-Fifth” and “Thank You Very Much” are perfect examples of this transformation.
And the troupe’s actors definitely rise to the challenge. Tom Cardinal completely disappears into the skin of cranky Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s probably some of Cardinal’s best character work to date, from the snarl to the squeaky tone to the belabored limp, he completely embodies the iconic character. But he also adds his own twist by giving Scrooge a biting wit that also makes the show enjoyable for the parents and other adults in the audience.
Michelle Daniels is perfectly prickly as the deceased Jackie Marley and Katy Psenicka is a sweet and affecting Ghost of Christmas Past, but Robbie Nance is a breath of fresh air as the scene-stealing Ghost of Christmas Present. Adding a rock star party edge to the character, he brings a bit of that typical Shadowbox flair that we’re used to.
“Scrooge” definitely runs long and seems a little song heavy overall, but in the end it’s the stellar performances that make the show shine. Definitely take your kids, your young nieces and nephews and give them a chance to experience Shadowbox in this new light.
“Scrooge” runs at Shadowbox Live (503 S. Front Street, Columbus) 2 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays through December 23 (also 2 p.m. Monday, Dec. 26). There are no shows Dec. 24-25. Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students/seniors. For more information visit www.shadowboxlive.com.