SALT LAKE CITY — "In the Dark," the special live science-themed show created by popular radio program Radiolab, played to a packed house Wednesday at the Capitol Theater during the first stanza of a two-night engagement. Radiolab is produced by radio station WNYC and distributed by NPR.
On paper "In the Dark" seems destined to be nothing more than a hodgepodge of disparate, shiny parts. Because in addition to Radiolab hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, the live show also features comedian Demetri Martin, modern dance troupe Pilobolus and singer-songwriter Thao Nguyen.
But in reality, "In the Dark" figured out a way to fuse all those elements together for 90 minutes of family-friendly entertainment.
As is ever the case on their radio program, Abumrad and Krulwich effectively complemented each other during "In the Dark." Abumrad, who not only hosts but also produces Radiolab, is a soundboard wizard with a keen ear for sonic nuance. During "In the Dark," Abumrad spent a significant amount of time huddled over his de facto production studio that includes a Mac laptop and some hardware for manipulating sound effects. Meanwhile, at the opposite side of the stage Krulwich cracked a steady stream of funny jokes while looking very professorial in his sport-coat-and-jeans attire.
A typical Radiolab program consists of three stories tied together by a common, science-based theme. That same format generally applied to "In the Dark," although with a few provisos: The interviews for the three stories (evolution of the eyeball; what it means to be blind; what outer space looks like to an astronaut) were prerecorded; and for several minutes between each story Martin, Pilobolus and Nguyen entertained the crowd while Abumrad and Krolwich rested for a few moments.
There wasn't necessarily anything bad about the standup comedy Martin performed at the beginning of the show and in between segments. But the comedian is without doubt the most prominent name on the "In the Dark" marquee — he has acted in nine motion pictures including 2011's "Contagion," and from 2009-2010 Martin had his own comedy sketch show on Comedy Central. Thus, when Martin's contribution to the Radiolab live show felt ho-hum, lesser lights like Pilobolus and Nguyen surprisingly eclipsed Martin.
The six members of Pilobolus were the unsung stars of "In the Dark." The dancers (four male, two female) crafted well-paced, visually stunning numbers while maintaining a contagiously mirthful demeanor that energized the crowd. At one point they danced through the crowd, hi-fiving members of the audience while each wearing a large mask crafted to look like a giant eyeball.
Ngyuen provided a pleasant surprise. Outfitted in a denim dress and cowboy boots, Ngyuen and her sunburst-colored, semi-acoustic Gibson Les Paul guitar led a three-piece trio that included a stand-up bass and drums. Playing original songs Ngyuen composed especially for "In the Dark," the musicians produced music tinged with a palpable country-western influence. During her one front-of-the-stage performance of the night, Ngyuen played a mean slide guitar in a song that evoked vintage Jack White.
The "In the Dark" website promotes the show as appropriate for ages 8 and up, which is a reasonable estimation given the show is completely devoid of profanity or other adult-oriented content. With that in mind, the only prerequisites for taking a child to "In the Dark" are that the child needs to be able to sit still for 90 minutes and comprehend very basic scientific principles.
Radiolab is not out on tour performing its live show. Rather, "In the Dark" debuted in November at the Bay Area Science Festival and also played in Miami, but is only scheduled for performances in select cities as demand dictates and scheduling conflicts permit. Upcoming engagements are scheduled for Portland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Seattle.