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Shadowbox Brings its Best Back to the Stage in Epic

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Shadowbox Brings its Best Back to the Stage in EpicA scene from Shadowbox Live's Epic. Photo courtesy Shadowbox Live.
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This weekend Shadowbox opened Epic, a best-of retrospective looking back at material since they merged into the Front Street location in 2011.

The eight sketches in this tight hour-and-forty-five-minutes trip down memory lane highlight Head Writer Jimmy Mak’s off-kilter look at human relationships and shine a light on director Julie Klein’s instincts for editing and forward motion. Epic one of the fastest-moving Shadowbox shows I’ve seen but never feels rushed. The video – put together by David Whitehouse and Zach Tarantelli – is stronger than I’ve seen in one of their shows; relating to the history the show celebrates and hitting its points with no filler.

50 Shades makes an appearance in Shadowbox Live’s Epic. Photo courtesy Shadowbox Live.

Raunch is a key component in Shadowbox’s stew and many of the best sketches here revolve around love and sex. “Long Way Home” with Julie Klein debating whether to take back her ex with the “help” of an assertive GPS is both touching and hilarious. “Battle Stations” soundtracks JT Walker and Amy Lay’s characters’ romantic troubles with on-the-nose pop songs. “Funk Daddy Love” features Brandon Anderson’s eponymous over-the-top R&B singer on trial for being “too sexy” and sells Anderson’s sense of the character as earnest, someone genuinely in love with the art they make, in what could be a metaphor for the show overall.

Pop culture parody and pastiche also account for a lot of what Shadowbox is known for. That pop sensibility is well-represented by “Sci Fi Story,” a West Side Story parody featuring gangs inspired by Star Wars and Star Trek. Amy Lay’s Princess Leia, David Whitehouse’s stoner Luke, and Noelle Anderson’s Uhura are highlights, but Jimmy Mak’s Kirk draws a line between William Shatner and Jerry Lewis in a way I’d never seen before. It’s a fantastic showcase of his comedic strengths. The other Romeo and Juliet riff, 50 Shades of Romeo, never quite gels.

The best-of choices in songs have an unfortunate tendency toward the mid-tempo and showy, taking the energy down as often as they ramp it up. Julie Klein’s knock-the-air-out-of-your-lungs vocal can’t quite save a turgid, overlong arrangement of Janis Joplin’s “Ball and Chain.” However, the highlights here are very strong. Noelle Anderson’s ferocious take on Alanis Morrissette’s “You Oughta Know” surges with Brent Lambert’s seething guitar. Klein and Anderson lay “Won’t Get Fooled Again” to waste in a rousing closer that highlights drummer Rhys Washington and Walker’s keys. JT Walker III’s “Darling Nikki” brings the house down.

Epic is a sharp, funny view of what keeps audiences coming back to Shadowbox and what’s given their blend of music and sketches its staying power in Columbus. It serves as a strong taste of what they do and a warm reminder of favorite sketches past.

Epic runs through March 17 with shows at 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. For tickets and more info, visit http://www.shadowboxlive.org/shows/epic.

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