He Took Manhattan Fiorello La Guardia, the colorful three-term mayor who saw New York through the stock market crash and the Great Depression, is the star of the musical Fiorello! As part of its "Lost Musicals" series, 42nd Street Moon is reviving the show, which ran for two years on Broadway after its 1959 debut and won six Tonys (including a tie with The Sound of Music for best musical), although it's been produced infrequently ever since. Jerry Bock's music and Sheldon Harnick's lyrics trace La Guardia's bumpy ascent from Greenwich Village lawyer to congressman to World War I soldier, followed by his botched mayoral run and concurrent widowing. Eventually, of course, La Guardia won people over so thoroughly that they wound up naming an airport after him; his hard-fought battles inspired songs like "Politics & Poker." Fiorello! previews at 8 p.m. (and runs through April 4) at the New Conservatory Theater, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Admission is $12-22; call 861-8972.
Three Steps Over the Line At last year's interactive performance installation The Mexterminator Project, viewers strolled wide-eyed past an exhibit of multiculti "characters" (El Paramilitary Samurai, La Cultural Transvestite) hemmed in by anthropologic clutter (weapons, liquor, animal skulls, votive candles, and computer games). Performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Pena, aided by collaborator Roberto Sifuentes and Contraband choreographer Sara Shelton-Mann, originally launched this assault on identity, politics, and the senses with The Dangerous Border Game. The "Spanglish lounge operetta" BORDERscape 2000, the third installment in the trilogy, merges opera, rap, and multimedia to imagine a tumultuous future in which technology expands and borders fall. The show previews at 8:30 p.m. (and runs through March 26) at the Magic Theater, Building D, Fort Mason, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $10-25; call 441-8822.
Sucking in the '90s Seattle will have its revenge on San Francisco with a triple bill that makes our city sound, well, wimpy. The Murder City Devils mess up big, dumb, amped punk rock with Farfisa organ: Watch and enjoy as bespectacled, short-haired singer Spencer Moody leads a drunken crowd through the raunchy sing-along "Boom Swagger Boom." Epitaph band Zeke, whose knobs were also twisted by Northwest engineering legend Jack Endino, echoes the sonic roar of Motsrhead and the obnoxious punk screech of the Didjits, flogs the Kiss anthem "Shout It Out Loud," and careens through songs like the Seattle-specific beer salute "Schmidt Value Pack" with the recklessness of a meth-addled truck driver. And that still leaves the Supersuckers, manly men with beer guts and greasy forelocks who proudly mix white-trash arena rock with infectious dirty blues, played at top volume. High Karate opens the show at 7 p.m. at the Maritime Hall, 450 Harrison (at First Street), S.F. Admission is $10; call 974-0634.
Ad It Up You could go crazy thinking about all the meaningless, patronizing, downright stupid advertisements you've been exposed to in your lifetime, or you could fight back. People do, in their own small way: Someone suggested Hitler as the subject of Apple's "Think Different" campaign, and guerrilla graphics outfit Hocus Focus took the joke further by tweaking the actual message on Apple billboards to stress the dead-icon part of the sales pitch. Their work will be shown at "The Art of Midnight Editing: Two Decades of Culture Jamming and Drive-By Advertising Improvement." This tribute to vigilante revisionism, which targets the inescapable medium of billboards, includes the Billboard Liberation Front's treatment of corporate giants like Levi's, Exxon, and R.J. Reynolds (the BLF claims to have been formed 22 years ago after pre-Cacophony Society prankster group the San Francisco Suicide Club kidnapped its founders and forced them, along with a bunch of ad copywriters, to alter billboards). Art prankster Ron English has been painting his own designs over existing ads since '82, while Survival Research Laboratories machine artist Mark Pauline got his start in drive-by media 20 years ago. These and other participating artists will talk about "fauxvertising" at 8 p.m. Sunday ($4-6), and Negativland will play the closing party April 1 ($8-25). The exhibit opens tonight with a reception at 6 p.m. at the Lab, 2948 16th St. (at Capp), S.F. Admission is free; call 864-8855.
Smile on Your Brother Synanon, the commune that brought us the damning phrase "Today is the first day of the rest of your life," also brings us Deborah Swisher's off-Broadway show Hundreds of Sisters and One Big Brother, if inadvertently. Swisher, the daughter of a Jewish schoolteacher and an African-American drummer, spent a hippie childhood in Berkeley until her mother divorced her father and moved Swisher and her sister into the 2,000-member commune, which began as a drug treatment center and morphed into a cult. As the child of an interracial divorced hippie couple, Swisher already had material, but Synanon, which existed on tax-free religious status, drug treatment grants, and donated food, was a veritable gold mine. In Swisher's one-woman show, comedy and horror play equal roles in her upbringing: Kids were separated from their parents to prevent excessive familial attachment, and commune members were supposed to learn to deal with conflict in "The Game," a free-for-all venting session that would degenerate into verbal attacks. This unusual coming-of-age story opens at 8 p.m. (and runs through March 28) at Brava Theater Center, 2789 24th St. (at York), S.F. Admission is $12-15; call 647-2822.
Girls, Girls, Girls Kindness, a trio comprised of 4 Non Blondes drummer Dawn Richardson, Penelope Houston bassist Katharine Chase, and Soul Divine guitarist Carrie Baum, makes its debut at a benefit for Live! Nude! Girls! Unite!, Julia Query's documentary on the unionization of North Beach strip club the Lusty Lady. Kindness offers its pop-kissed electronica, as Query and stripper-activists greet guests on the patio. Guests can also expect to hear from folk-punk figure Madigan and author Michelle Tea, organizer of the rowdy annual Sister Spit spoken-word caravan. The party begins at 4 p.m. at El Rio, 3158 Mission (at Precita), S.F. Admission is $8-25; call 550-1902.
Wherever They Rroma Maybe Americans are more willing to accept a nomadic people who soak up the flavors of every culture they run across. If that's so, it might help explain why the members of groups like Gypsy Caravan receive a warm welcome in the States, while the Gypsies, or Rroma, are more often greeted abroad with a mixture of fear and contempt. The vastness of the Rroma diaspora shows in the caravan's performance: Romania's Taraf de Haidouks play medieval ballads and Turkish-style dance music, as they did in Tony Gatlif's film Latcho Drom. Russia's Kolpakov Trio is led by triple threat Sacha Kolpakov, a singer/dancer who plays a seven-string guitar specific to Russian Gypsies; the Yuri Yunakov Ensemble plays Bulgarian wedding music; and Antonio el Pipa's Flamenco Ensemble offers Andalusian flamenco music and dance. These and other members of the caravan perform at 8 p.m. at Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft & Telegraph, UC Berkeley campus. Admission is $14-26; call (510) 642-9988.
And Venus Was Her Name Saartjie Baartman, better known as the Venus Hottentot, lived the kind of tragic life that playwrights simply cannot resist. Circus promoters coaxed Baartman away from her native Africa in the 1800s with the promise of riches and adulation, but when she arrived in Europe, Baartman found herself alone and lonely, an exploited freak show attraction and the butt of cruel jokes about her ample posterior, which Europeans apparently found amusing. To add insult to injury, the governments of South Africa and France had a dust-up not three years ago over who should get to keep Baartman's pickled brain and genitalia, which had been harvested posthumously and left moldering in a back room at the Museum of Man in Paris. Suzan-Lori Parks (who wrote the screenplay for Spike Lee's Girl 6) won an Obie for her play Venus, one of many dramatic works inspired by Baartman's life. Thick Description will stage the drama, crossing Parks' poetic language with the crude theatrics of a 19th-century midway. The West Coast premiere of the show previews at 8 p.m. (and continues through April 11) at New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (at Ninth Street), S.F. Attendees earn a dollar for catching the preview -- regular admission is $10-15; call 565-0331.
Grace Notes Like the sing-along Messiah concerts that have become a widespread holiday tradition, the first ever "medieval chant-a-long" "Pange Lingua: Sing My Tongue" creates a harmonic convergence between amateur vocalists and professional musicians. In the hushed, cavernous environs of Grace Cathedral, the audience will sing Spanish cantigas and 12th-century Gregorian chants of the Lenten season, conducted by Marika Kuzma, who will ask them to "drone" or "tone" in certain sections. Members of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, Santa Cruz Chorale, UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus, St. Mark's Episcopal Church Choir, and Chanticleer will also chime in, while tenor David Gordon and mezzo-sopranos Karen Clark and Jennifer Lane float solos over the top, accompanied by harpists and vielle players. The concert benefits the Dapper Hat Fund, which provides financial support to local early music artists suffering from life-threatening illnesses. It begins at 7 p.m. (with an optional 6 p.m. audience rehearsal) at Grace Cathedral, 1100 California (at Taylor), S.F. Admission is a suggested donation of $15; call (510) 528-1725.
How Do You Say ... Kraut-Hop? They come from the land of riot grrrls and K Records, and they've toured with Unwound, but ICU (pronounced "ee-kooh") has radically departed from the raw punk and quirky pop that put Olympia on America's musical map. While Aaron Hartman (formerly of Old Time Relijun) knocks out a pensive jazz riff on stand-up bass, Michiko Swiggs builds a wall of sound from analog synthesizers and thrift-shop organs; Modest Mouse DJ K.O. drops in with spacey theremin melodies, guitars, and far-flung samples: children's choirs, say, or a travelogue record. ICU's Chotto Matte a Moment isn't quite trip hop or drum 'n' bass (the trio has been half-jokingly dubbed "Kraut-hop"), but if you listen carefully, you might catch a reflective Portishead-type moment amid the staccato drum machine beats and frequent tempo shifts. ICU plays at 5 p.m. at Amoeba Records, 1855 Haight (at Stanyan), S.F. Admission is free; call 831-1200. They're sandwiched in between performance artist Miranda July and the Dub Narcotic Sound System tonight; Kicking Giant opens the show at 8:30 p.m. at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. (at Texas), S.F. Admission is $7; call 621-4455.
Wild Life Benjie Aerenson isn't fooled for a minute by Florida's sunny facade; his Florida isn't Miami beach parties and celebrity glitz so much as the state where rednecks and immigrants, strip malls and wetlands uneasily coexist. That dark side was much remarked upon after the debut of his play Lighting the Two-Year-Old, a comic drama marked by Mamet-like dialogue and set on a North Florida horse farm, where a father-son duo plot to kill a thoroughbred for the insurance money. And so it is with The Possum Play, Aerenson's first work, meant for a mature audience, which was deemed too complicated for smaller companies to stage and too controversial for bigger regional companies to risk. The Shotgun Players will open their eighth season with Possum, which sends a middle-aged Floridian housewife out into the mangroves and freeways for a walk on the wild side. It previews at 8 p.m. (and runs through April 19) at the South Berkeley Congregational Church, Fairview & Ellis, Berkeley. Admission is $8-20; call (510) 655-0813.