You know that the holiday season has officially arrived in Central Ohio when Shadowbox Live gifts us with the opening of its annual musical sketch comedy, Holiday Hoopla. Just as nutty as fruitcake, a little sassier, and so much sweeter, this is hilariously fun how has become so wildly popular that in its 21st revision, it has already sold out many nights a month ahead.
Arguably one of the best values for your entertainment dollar in Columbus, Shadowbox Live’s ensemble is phenomenally talented across the board, with Holiday Hoopla showcasing some of their best and brightest again this year. The house band, Bill Who? opens the show with a classy arrangement of “Deck the Halls” by Mannheim Steamroller, followed by a solemn, but vocally lovely, version of Bon Jovi’s “Please Come Home for Christmas” sung by Julie Klein.
The comedic sketch pieces that Shadowbox does just as well as its musical numbers, open with Nikki Fagin and JT Walker III playing two aliens from outer space who summons earthling, David Whitehouse to explain what the Christmas season on earth is all abouT. Whitehouse is at a loss describing Santa, Christmas trees, and Flying Reindeer, with the very funny miscommunication being reported to the alien commander, none other than our local meteorologist, NBC4’s Jym Ganahl in a video guest spot. Following is “Vinnie’s Christmas Playhouse”, in which Jimmy Mak’s Vinnie hosts a children’s Christmas show gone wrong with sidekick Sofia (Amy Lay). Both sketches were fun and got quite a few chuckles from the audience, but “Kidilin” with Mary Randle as the parent concerned about the ADHD kids unfairly put on Santa’s (JT Walker III) naughty list was one of the more humorous pieces of the evening. David Whitehouse as Wal-Mart greeter turned co-anchor, John Rudolph and Julie Klein as anchorwoman Shelly Shingle, were up next in “Sneak-a-peek Holiday Special”. This skit has the two previewing some holiday film clips from shows like, “Sleightanic” a “Titanic” parody, in which JT Walker III’s Santa puts a crooning Celine Dion (Amy Lay) out of her misery as his last act before his sleigh goes down. Classic Shadowbox gold- creative, witty, sarcastic, and pure delight.
Another highlight of the evening was the always delightful Stacie Boord, in her classic form, a backless dress and oozing sensuality, with Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore’s “Merry Christmas Baby”. Boord’s vocals are just tremendous, and she owns the stage. While Shadowbox as a whole often triggers the same thought, it’s inevitably her presence that never fails to leave you wondering why more of Central Ohio hasn’t found out how crazy good the talent here is.
Jimmy Mak reprises his role a military commando, Dasher, the reindeer in the skit, “Black Friday” with a light-hearted look at how the toy aisle items survive the sales day mania under his guidance. There’s a rather blah arrangement of Sting’s “The Hounds of Winter” that is well-sung by Stephanie Shull, but kind of any energy drain in the show’s pace, but capped nicely by a refreshingly odd “Oi to the World” sung by Amy Lay and Nikki Fagin, in true No Doubt fashion, down to the Gwen Stefani-esque pink wig and polar fur covered hot pants. Hip, cool, funky, and a totally Shadowbox way to end Act I.
Act II opens with another different, but nice choice, Los Lonely Boys’ “I’ve Longed for Christmas” sung by Jennifer Hahn with back-up vocals by Nikki Fagin, Amy Lay, and BranDon Anderson. Followed is the eagerly anticipated return of the Cliché Family, a perennial Hoopla inclusion, with fan favorites David Whitehouse, Stacie Boord, and Julie Klein as the Cliché mom and kids. It’s Stephanie Shull as Gramma who steals the seen with her flatulence and spunk- think Sophia from Golden Girls done Shadowbox style. The skit is cute, but unless you know these characters from previous shows, they just don’t pull together well this time around to have the comedic value this bit has had previously.