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Theatre Review: Underland is a feast for the senses

Anne Evans Anne Evans Theatre Review: Underland is a feast for the sensesThe Diggers stirring up the crowd.
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In the flood of Kickstarter requests, there are still some gems to be found. Shadowbox Live’s new musical Underland is such a gem and after a couple of years in the making, has been brought to the stage.

“I sent Stev my initial proposal for the script in November of 2011,” says author and Shadowbox Live head writer Jimmy Mak. “It still felt too soon after Back to the Garden to do a hippie musical, so I didn’t aggressively start writing it until spring of 2012.”

Underland marks the fourth musical Mak has written for the theatre company. “It was the first I wasn’t cast in so in that respect it was terrifying,” he says. “I didn’t have my own lines or blocking to be distracted by. Instead, I just watched and thought “God I hope people like this.”

And like it they did.

The Kickstarter campaign was successful and raised $2,000 more than its goal. Sunday’s opening performance sold out and concluded with a standing ovation from a very pleased audience.

Get lost in the stunning visuals during The Doors’ Light My Fire.

Underland opens with a colorful and splashy song and dance ensemble to Scott McKenzie’s “If You’re Going to San Francisco.” Choreographer Katy Psenicka is wonderful at having the group gather on stage for big numbers and then dissipate into the background to move the story along.

The carefree attitude of the scene changes to worry when Albert Ice (played by Robbie Nance) enters the stage questioning people on the whereabouts of his daughter Martha.

It’s with Martha that the subtle references to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland start to slip in as people recognize her as the White Rabbit.

Perhaps Martha did flee to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to bring her Dad to a place where he could finally open his heart and be healed of all of the tragedies he had experienced. As the play moves along we find out that Albert is a Vietnam war veteran who has come home and been released from the VA although his mental problems are far from cured.

Amidst the overarching story of how war veterans should be cared for are a few lighter side tales.

Community anarchist group, The Diggers, are wonderfully brought to life by Billy DePetro, Jim Andes, Skyler Hjelm, Eli Rousculp, and several masks created by Nikos Fyoder Rutkowski.

“I made all four masks in two weeks,” says Rutkowski. They are pretty spectacular and make the characters larger than life.

Brandon Anderson as Mercury and Leah Haviland as Harriett in Shadowbox Live’s Underland.

Jamie Barrow gives a comical performance as Little Bill, aka the Lizard King, and his pickup lines for Anita McFarren (Eagle) are amusing. As is JT Walker III’s take on drug dealing priest Father William.

A Mad Hatter psychedelic shop at first seems a bit too much on the Alice reference, but it’s quickly forgiven with Brandon Anderson’s delightful performance of the kooky Mercury. Leah Haviland and Anderson have great chemistry and light up the stage. Betsy Shortt designed all of the costumes and she went all out for these two.

The second act casts a darker mood as it has been revealed that Albert is potentially dangerous. Characters that previously thought he was a harmless father begin to worry about their own safety.

Albert has been carrying around ‘voices’ in the form of a white mouse (Edelyn Parker), a Cat (Amy Lay), and now Greenie (Tom Cardinal). Cardinal’s dark interpretation of Greenie is probably the most damaging one. After a harrowing war scene, he convinces Albert to use his sniper scope to see people in a crowd better.

Things start to get a bit scary when it is hard to tell what is really happening and what is not. Light Designer Scott Aldridge does a fantastic job moving your eyes around the stage and taking you in and out of Albert’s head. Underland does end on a good note and carries a meaningful message of making sure to express your love to those you care about.

With Underland, Mak has written another successful script that’s brought to life with stunning visual effects and a great team. As one of my companions said, “the play is definitely true to the time period.”

Go see it for yourself and get lost in the colorful costumes and the beautiful music by Shadowbox’s fantastic house band, billed as The Underband for this production.

All photos by Studio 66.

Underland plays on select Sundays, March 10 through May 19 at 2pm and 7pm. No shows on March 31. Tickets are $30 for general admission and Students, Seniors (age 55+), and Military are $20.00. Visit www.shadowboxlive.org for more information.

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