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Club Inferno & The Good Companions

Club Inferno
The Tuck 'N' Roll Players follow up last year's Cyberotica! with a tour of hell (created by Peter Fogel and Kelly Kittell) and find a little heaven. The large cast gets on and off the tiny Paradise Lounge stage awkwardly, and the between-songs dialogue is often poorly ad-libbed, but the show's a great conceit, and the songs are sometimes spectacular. Danté (Birdie Bob Watt), disco diva and nightclub queen, gets electrocuted onstage, and wakes in Hades, where the angelic and half-naked Virgil (Fogel) promises to guide her home through hell's nine levels. Luckily, Danté's muse, Judy Garland (as perfectly mimicked by the great Connie Champagne), is watching over him. The first few songs just set the scene, but things start cookin' in Limbo, where Danté encounters Xaron (Matthew Morin), hell's elevator operator. In "So You Think You're a Bitch," the two exchange hard-rockin' barbs in a big ole bitch fight. Later, on Level 3, where the gluttonous dwell, Karen Carpenter (Champagne) and Mama Cass (Leigh Crow) sing of the sweet, post-mortal love they've found with each other. Crow looks and sounds like Cass, and the duet "My Other Half" is a hilarious exchange of endearments -- "I am the doughnut." "I am the hole." "My sweet baguette." "My onion roll." Higher up, the Hindu goddess Durva (the sweetly innocent Kennedy) denounces wrath in "Blow Your Mind Away" (reminiscent of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows"), and a charred Joan of Arc (Arturo Galster) bids us to "Always Say Your Prayers." But it's Level 8 where real glory resides. Trauma Flintstone is Aimee Semple McPherson, recruiting souls while singing "Little White Lies." Flintstone is astounding, belting out the gospel-tinged rocker that reeks of both salvation and perdition in a big, powerful voice: "Everybody came layin' hands on me/ There's a party in my pants theologically/ Little white lies gonna set you free." Flintstone and the Tuck 'N' Roll Players damn near redeem damnation.

Sundays through October at the Paradise Lounge, 308 11th St. (at Folsom), S.F. Admission is $15; call 431-8422.


The Good Companions
This 1974 musical version of J.B. Priestley's leisurely novel necessarily eliminates much of his rich detail, but it unfortunately doesn't provide appropriate dramatization. Ronald Harwood's book gives us a first act that's mostly expository flashback and a second act that's blandly predictable. The Dinky-Doos, a 1920s British "concert party" (traveling theatrical troupe), are down on their luck when a new banjo-playing member (Sean Sharp) shows up with three wayfaring tag-alongs: Jess Oakroyd (Don Cima), who's left his horrid wife and spoiled son and misses his daughter in Canada; Inigo Jollifant (Bill Fahrner), a would-be composer fired from his teaching job; and Elizabeth Trant (Alison Aylers), who's mourning the death of her father and escaping her controlling siblings. The Dinky-Doos re-form themselves as the Good Companions, performing Inigo's songs, with Elizabeth serving as their manager/producer and Jess as their stagehand. Andre Previn's music and Johnny Mercer's lyrics provide a score of British music hall songs, which, although appropriate, are rather boring. (Many of them approach the banality of drinking songs.) There's one rousing number, "Traveling Music," which features some great choreography from Jayne Zaban, and Marcia Lanza, as the head Companion, finds some rich emotional moments in the song "Stage Door John," but she oversells some of the notes by belting them out. The cast is fine (although the accents slip in and out), and Greg MacKellan ably directs the piece, but the lack of malice or tension in the show lends a slack, slightly depressed air; the characters seem to perform out of a sense of obligation, rather than joy. Priestley's novel does have a sweet melancholy to it, but that's different from what's presented here. Unlike the novel, The Good Companions isn't very companionable.

Through Aug. 27 at the Eureka Theater, 215 Jackson (at Battery), S.F. Admission is $19-25; call 788-1125.

 
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