Columbus Dispatch
March 1, 2012

Review | 'Torch Songs': Too much chatter clogs Shadowbox cabaret alternate title:
Theater Review | Torch Songs: Spoken parts dull the flame of musical acts

By Margaret Quamme

The new Shadowbox Live show is billed as Torch Songs, and when it sticks to its subject, it has a smoky charm.

Too much of the evening, however, is devoted to words rather than music, and they bog the pace and mood down with what can be depressing solemnity.

Most of the first act is devoted to an overly long one-act, Lewis Carlino's morose and unconvincing Snow Angel, in which an aging prostitute and her unhappy client gradually reveal their pasts to each other. Mary Randle and David Whitehouse do their best with the material, but they're hampered by a plot that is both predictable and unbelievable, and by repetitious dialogue that militantly refuses any hint of humor or perspective.

The second act alternates between musical numbers and spoken word pieces, with the musical pieces being much stronger. Shadowbox has an unfortunate weakness for the rhythms of Beatnik-declaimed poetry, and Robbie Nance takes on one of Donald Revell's poems in this manner, allowing it to drag on interminably. Betsy Shortt gives an overwrought performance of Blanche's key monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire, one that barely works in the play itself and seems ripe for parody when performed outside that context.

The structure of the show also needs some work. A satirical private eye in the city skit, with J.T. Walker as a cynical, inept hotel detective and Edelyn Parker as a dame attired in a towel, provides welcome comic relief, but seems out of step with the rest of the serious show, and Stephanie Shull's quiet, contained version of Joni Mitchell's Chinese Cafe, while otherwise effective, seems out of place as a show-ender, where the company usually pulls out all the stops.

Though the musical sections of the show occasionally misfire, as when Walker takes what seems to be a not totally intentional smarmy lounge singer approach to The Way You Look Tonight, the music is on the whole the bright spot of the evening. Shadowbox's broadly encompassing interpretation of just what a torch song stretches to fit country, blues and R and B seamlessly into the mix.

Amy Lay's elegant, restrained version of Crazy and Noelle Grandison's sultry, wistful Come Away with Me both re-interpret those songs without losing their meaning. Transforming Nothing Compares 2 U into a duet - with Brandon Anderson and Jennifer Hahn as two halves of a former couple - adds unexpected power to it. In Bright Lights and Promises, Julie Klein tracks through the ups and downs of a life far more concisely and precisely than any of the spoken pieces do.

It's clear that the women of Shadowbox have musical talent to spare, and keeping the spotlight on their singing would give Torch Songs the fire it sometimes lacks.