Review: "Evo" rock opera showcases Shadowbox's own evolution

Jay Weitz, Columbus Alive

A long time ago in a warehouse about two miles away, Shadowbox Live created its rock opera, "Evolution." It was a time before director, co-writer (with Jimmy Mak) and co-composer (with Matthew Hahn) Stev Guyer lost the second "e" in his first name, and before Shadowbox gained its own Brewery District home. In the nearly two decades since, the company evolved to its current emphasis on cabaret and sketch comedy. "Evolution" evolved as well, losing its final two syllables and improving in almost every conceivable way.

Tighter, clearer and more focused, "Evo" benefits greatly from the guiding voice of Ringleader Stacie Boord. Her introductory monologues give context to the often comic skits and passionate songs that follow in each section. Nowhere is Boord more effective than in the Act II opener, "Surveillance." Confessing her lifelong fear of being alone, Boord leads us into the song, sung by Guyer, driven with a steady heartbeat of paranoia supplied by percussionists Brandon "Dreds" Smith and Brent Lambert.

Act I deals with such issues as bullying, biological clocks, the self-destruction of relationships, the prolongation of life, the lure of consumerism, and mob psychology, all with dark humor. Yet if the darkness of Act I is that of dusk, in Act II it is that of midnight: human barbarism, the distinctions between love and lust, the harm we inflict on our children and the bedrock of revenge beneath our institutions of law and justice.

The humor leavens all the darkness, and Katy Psenicka's choreography both grounds everything in recognizable human action and expands upon each theme with nonverbal fluency. In the cautionary conclusion, "Together We Fall," Psenicka reprises several signature gestures from throughout "Evo" as Boord issues her final warning.

In his opening remarks Guyer noted that Shadowbox had changed over time and hoped that it showed. Call it evolution.

Shadowbox Live

503 S. Front St., Brewery District

2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 2,