You could go to the theater for a long time before finding another hit as unlikely as Shadows, which sold out its opening (and so far, only) weekend at Santa Barbara’s Center Stage Theater. Griffin Saxon and Zoe Serbin, the teen duo responsible for this irreverent mash-up of musical theater clichés, adolescent humor, and deep Nintendo knowledge, would seem to have tapped a pent-up craving for theater that doesn’t take itself, or anything else, too seriously. Yet Shadows is not pure anarchy; it plays by at least some of the rules, and it displays copious wit, keen observation, and limitless energy. There’s a certain charm in the kind of singing that goes on when kids are by themselves, jumping on the bed, and pretending that their hairbrush is a microphone. This kind of fun shouldn’t transfer to the stage, or be sustainable over the course of an evening, but somehow Shadows makes it work.
Saxon and Serbin’s writing is consistently funny and interesting, and the pair has enough different moves to make sure that things never get predictable. Just when you think you’ve seen everything from this duo, in walks Christopher Walken (Diego Rodriguez, who also plays Mario and Power-up). The show’s concept, which is a “behind the console” look, in story and song, at the lives of some Nintendo video game characters, generates a range of humorous roles, each of which gives these talented young performers something to work with. As the hardboiled, tough-talking Princess Daisy, Cameron Platt was hilariously sassy and surly, and gave television’s “mob wives” a run for their money. The twinkle toes of the elfin character Link from The Legend of Zelda series unleashed an extraordinary physical performance from Katherine Bottoms, who provided many of the high points within the overall choreography, which was done by Malcolm McCarthy. The wild song stylings of Wario were a perfect fit for the zany and thoroughly over the top Mary Cusimano, and her solo at the end of “The Minus World” song was extremely funny and unforgettable.
Overall it would appear that what made this night so enjoyable was the foundation beneath the fun, which was the fact that so many of these young people are so-called “theater geeks,” meaning that they know intuitively, and from years of training and performance, exactly what kinds of songs go where in a standard musical comedy. The sure-footed way that they negotiated the various warp pipes of the plot, and the rousing enthusiasm that they brought to everything from the set construction and costume creation to the singing and dancing was, for those willing to go along on this unabashedly silly ride, irresistible.