Shadowbox Live's crisp, clever "Hellraiser" combines sharply defined musical numbers and a few fresh sketches for a broadly entertaining evening.
Some of the sketches cover ground familiar to Shadowbox fans. One allows David Whitehouse and Julie Klein to reprise roles as mismatched movie critics, with Klein the grounded, sensible counterpart to Whitehouse's dithering enthusiast - as well as permitting the Shadowbox writers to sandwich in what seems to be the requisite Star Wars reference.
In another, less amusing but mercifully brief, Amy Lay plays the role of preteen critic Shannon, this time discussing "The Exorcist."
As is typical, Shadowbox's weaker efforts recycle gags about out-of-date cultural touchstones: A cross between "The Muppets" and "Goodfellas," neither particularly timely, relies mainly on profanity for its laughs.
Fortunately, many of this year's Halloween-themed production venture into new territory. A sketch about two security guards (Jimmy Mak and Brandon Anderson), who may or not be seeing ghosts, twists in some intriguing ways, and one about a poor soul (Tom Cardinal) sent to "Heck" rather than Hell fleshes out its conceit in endearing detail and makes good use of the comic talents of Cardinal, Jamie Barrow and Robbie Nance.
Even the sketches with familiar elements are tightly written, nicely polished and slickly concluded.
The musical numbers are equally slick, and make good use of the house band. Standouts include a masterful "Bad to the Bone" by Josh Morris, avoiding any hint of excess or parody; a clear and incendiary "War Pigs" performed by Barrow; and a flashy, compelling performance of "Believer" by Anderson, enhanced by well coordinated lighting effects.
The goofy, costume-heavy side of Shadowbox also gets a workout in an ensemble version of "This Is Halloween," helmed with relish by Cardinal.
As opposed to some of their more inventive work, the Shadowbox rock/sketch comedy shows stick fairly closely to a formula. This one has fun exploring what can be done within those predictable bounds.