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Fifty ShadesBy Richard Ades

Given what they say about lightning striking twice, I had little reason to believe 50 Shades of Shadowbox would be as much fun as its 2015 predecessor.

That show, Sex at the Box, turned out to be my second-most-fun non-horizontal experience of the entire year. I knew it would be impossible to beat, but I hoped the new show would come close to matching its inspired lunacy.

Mostly, it doesn’t. But sometimes it does.

The skit that best reflects the show’s theme is 50 Shades of Romeo, in which star-crossed lovers Romeo (Robbie Nance) and Juliet (Amy Lay) find they share a penchant for kinky canoodling. Adding to the mock-Shakespearean atmosphere is the liberal use of Elizabethan suffixes (“musteth”).

Even funnier is The Ear Pod, featuring Tom Cardinal as a football fan who’s forced to miss the big game so he can attend couples counseling with his unhappy wife (Julie Klein). Miracle of miracles, it even has a punchline that’s both unexpected and amusing.

Maybe I’m being redundant there, as it’s hard for something to make us laugh if it isn’t unexpected. That’s the trouble with some of the evening’s weaker skits: They’re instantly predictable.

As soon as Kyle (JT Walker III) and his sexy girlfriend (Lay) walk into a room in The Jealous Boyfriend, it’s obvious she’s going to meet one ex-beau after another. It’s also obvious how Kyle will react, since the skit’s title gives it away.

Then there’s Spell Check, in which parents Katy Psenicka and Cardinal accuse their son of seeking out Internet porn. The punchline falls flat because it merely confirms what we knew all along.

The show gets off on the wrong foot with its first skit, Laid Off, about a boss (Klein) who decides to “fire” her lover (Cardinal) from the relationship. It’s disappointing because it tries to find laughs in heavy-handed double entendres rather than characterization or clever developments.

Thankfully, several of the other skits are more inventive, even if they aren’t absolute laugh riots. They include RiDickulous (about an app for girls deluged with photos of classmates’ not-so-private parts) and Sexy Nurse (about a hospital in which nurses dress just like they do in men’s lurid fantasies).

Also fairly amusing is Aw Fuk Me, about a 911 service for embarrassed victims of sexual shenanigans gone awry. However, at the performance I attended, it seemed to be cut short by a lighting miscue. It was a rare instance of imperfection for a troupe whose shows usually run like clockwork.

Shadowbox is such an expert at sketch humor that it’s likely director Stev Guyer and his cast will find ways to squeeze more humor out of the show as its run continues. But for now, the skits aren’t as reliably entertaining as the musical numbers.

The best cover songs include Bruno Mars’s Gorilla (sung by Noelle Grandison and Maurin Penn), Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing (sung by Grandison and Guillermo Jemmott) and Prince’s Little Red Corvette (sung by a very Prince-ly Walker).

Judiciously, Shadowbox saves the best for last: Meat Loaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light, with Kline and Lucas Tomasacci trading verses as the dueling leads. The show may not be epic, but it ends in a tunefully epic fashion.

50 Shades of Shadowbox continues through March 19 at Shadowbox Live, 503 S. Front St. Show times are 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $20-$40. 614-716-7625 or www.shadowboxlive.org.

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