Theatre Review: Shadowbox’s “Body Heat” Generates Some Steam
It’s almost as much of a tradition as their annual Holiday Hoopla that in the coldest months of the year, local music and sketch comedy institution Shadowbox’s mind turns to lust and love. The newest iteration of this sexy show, Body Heat, is a mixed bag like usual but has plenty of rewards for the faithful and some gems even for the curmudgeons among us.
The music from house band BillWho? is very strong this go-round. A bombastic version of Joan Jett’s cover of Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me” puts a riotous chug on the back of Nikki Fagin’s knows-exactly-what-she-wants vocal; Fagin also shines on their take on Halestorm’s nu-metal riff “I Get Off,” enlivened by Matt Buchwalter’s crunchy drumming. Brandon Anderson leads a gleeful party-starting take on Bruno Mars’ ’80s pop-funk homage 24K Magic and perfect set-closer James Brown’s “Sex Machine.” Amy Lay brings just enough of a wink to their take on The Pretty Reckless’ “Hit Me Like a Man” and flips that on the hook (created by T-Pain) to second act opener “I Just Had Sex.” Tom Cardinal unleashes a delightful, deadpan lounge-lizard take on Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love.”
The audience’s mileage out of the sketches frequently depends on our affection for recurring characters. For me, Anderson’s reliably amusing Funk Daddy Love gets big laughs out of an ever-more-absurd R&B compilation from the character pitched as a self-help guide for couples including some wicked, sharp rejoinders from Guillermo Jemmott, Katy Psenicka, and Jamie Barrow. Among the things that make the Funk Daddy Love sketches work is Anderson’s utter sincerity in his presentation coupled with Easter eggs for fans of the genre, most pleasantly surprising to me, “My Big Black Clock Says It’s Naughty Time” teased latter-day Johnny “Guitar” Watson. That same commitment makes “Debbie Goes Legit” soar, with a hilarious Amy Lay bursting through any audience objections about realism as she runs circles around Jimmy Mak’s hysterical straight man. Stev Guyer’s “Fireside Rap” recordings reading R&B songs of the last 20 years is far from a new concept, but it works because Guyer’s character believes.
With the size of its casts, it makes sense Shadowbox would lean on a presentation or commentary model for many of the sketches. Some of these fall flat like the incredibly dated Sally Struthers PSA “Give to the Elderly,” but they occasionally hit paydirt. “Pro Pickup,” a commentary on singles bars as gladiatorial sport including rundowns of last week’s scores and references to players coming out of retirement runs a little long but has some great lines. The chemistry between Cardinal and Lay keeps the sketch moving, and the chemistry between Nikki Davis and Jemmott pushes it over the edge. “Win Her Back” features Fagin’s exasperated community college instructor grading an oral exam to her fumbling students to win the object of their love back. David Whitehouse’s hilarious plagiarist and Billy DePetro’s jock’s baffled interjections are highlights of this sketch.
Some of Body Heat runs too long or feels like it was taken right out of a sitcom 30 years ago, but there’s also real sharpness and intensity. The audience at the Saturday performance I saw were in hysterics for most of its tight under-two-hours run time, and the music served as a backbone instead of just punctuation.
Body Heat runs through March 4 with performances at 7:30 pm and 10:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. For tickets and more info, visit shadowboxlive.org/shows/body-heat.