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This show never would have been staged for families in 1959. Still, on opening night, the raunch didn't go over too well. My impression was that the kids wanted to laugh, but they were there with their parents; and the folks wanted to Set a Good Example. That dynamic made most of the sex as hilarious as an expired whoopee cushion, which to me was the funniest part of the play.

The story of the greaser, Danny Zuko, courting-but-resisting Sandra Dee, the prim girl -- until Sandy whores herself by reversing her image -- is so flabby you might think Grease! would make an excellent vehicle for camp, but the campiness works only in flickers. Mackenzie Phillips plays a convincingly bitchy Rizzo; Beth Lipari is entertaining as Frenchy; and Kevin-Anthony, with his soaring voice, is electric as the Teen Angel, singing to Frenchy in his 2-foot-high fixture of plastic orange hair. Otherwise the show is fantastically boring. It runs two and a half hours on its thin premise, and between songs you realize that most of the dialogue is there to connect the musical numbers, the way a lot of Star Wars is there to link up flaring special effects. Porno flicks, of course, run on the same formula; and seen in the proper light the soul of Grease! takes on a tartishness that isn't really so out of place in the Tenderloin.

-- Michael Scott Moore

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Hats Entertainment!
Beach Blanket Babylon. By Steve Silver. Directed and choreographed by Kenny Mazlow. Starring Linda Bulgo, Val Diamond, Doug Magpiong, and Renee Lubin. At Club Fugazi, 678 Green, on an open run. Call 421-4222.

Who says theater can't change our material reality? A block of North Beach's Green Street has been rechristened Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard after Steve Silver's musical revue. Granted, after a 20-plus-year-long run, BBB is as much San Francisco as the GGB and probably deserves its own sign. Director Kenny Mazlow dishes out a sensorial feast in the show's current incarnation, delivering choreographic razzmatazz, a variety of outrageously large hats (including a telescoping Transamerica Building), and lots of visual and musical puns.

The story is simple. Native S.F.er Snow White (Linda Bulgo) takes time out from the seven midgets to find a prince charming; men seem to be lacking at home. (BBB has a gay reputation, but the current version is curiously heterocentric.) With a little magic from a Tina Turner-riffing fairy godmother (Renee Lubin) and dressed like Glinda from the land of Oz, she globe-trots, hitting France, Italy, Japan, and some tropical locales. For each geographic shift, the performers switch accents, musical numbers, and hats -- a lamppost equals France, a chef's hat Rome, pineapples anywhere "exotic" -- and advise Snow on how to hook her fish. In Paris an emphysematous ho advises Snow to lose the too-clean smock and get trashy. But Snow's change of garb, to a French Apache look complete with a full-size garbage-can hat, fails to attract even a down-and-out French poodle (the electrifying Doug Magpiong). Similar episodes follow. The quest lets the troupe get the audience laughing by spinning out caricatures of cultural figureheads worldwide: from Gingrich to "Sony" and Cher, from John Travolta to Princess Di. At one point, cued by Madonna's "Like a Prayer," Snow transmogrifies into the gold-coned-brassiere-bobbing singer and enters the world of the divine when catapulted deus ex machina-style up and across the theater's ceiling. When virgins are mentioned Michael Jackson appears, complete with a baby Jackson strapped to his back.

You get the idea. BBB is good for a couple of laughs. It offers the same distasteful pleasure you got as a kid from pink cotton candy at the fair. However, BBB also raises other issues; such long-running success can have a deleterious effect. The show's financial base is a story that can easily change with the times (topical ready-mades can replace dated jokes without much ado), two performances a night, and post-show sales of BBB T-shirts, posters, and mineral-water bottles. Survival is fine, but the show's efforts to please its mostly white, middle-class audience may make others more uncomfortable. James Brown is endowed with an extravagant bulbous ass; a grinning "witch doctor" arrives onstage with a bone in his 'fro and a tumescent banana; and all of the female characters, including Hillary R.C., are portrayed as either matrons or sexual accessories. Hmmm. It's fine when street signs become ads, but do the disenfranchised have to foot the bill?

-- Frederick Luis Aldama

The Permanent Behemoth
The Phantom of the Opera. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe. Book by Stilgoe and Lloyd Webber. Directed by Harold Prince. Starring Franc D'Ambrosio, Lisa Vroman, and Christopher Carl. At the Curran Theater, 445 Geary (at Powell), in an open run. Call 776-1999.

It's inevitable. Mention that you love theater, and the response is, "Did you see Phantom [Miss Saigon/Aspects of Love]?" So you divert the conversation back toward dinner before the show. (Lovely elk medallions in black currant sauce!) What else can you say? "I'm sorry you spent $67 dollars to see a chandelier fall, a mouse of an actress in the lead, and sets that threaten to maim the actors if they misstep"? Gonzo blockbuster musicals are not my kind of theater -- besides the prices, there's no surprise or intimacy. Equity actors rarely burst into numbers about cheap motels and a quart of whiskey. And back drafts of dry ice kill visibility in your average 3,000-seat venue. But, with the Curran Theater generously providing an extra seat for the chip on my shoulder, I attended that man of mystery, The Phantom of the Opera.

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