There are few things easier to satirize than musicals. By their very nature they contain many aspects that can cross the line from sensational to silly: overwrought lyrics, feverish phrasing, the artificial "I feel a song coming on" pause in dramatic action that forces those onstage to stand and smile uncomfortably as another actor emotes tunefully. It's these built-in absurdities that make an event like Bay Area Theatresports' Spontaneous Broadway such frivolous fun, with its turn-on-a-dime improvised musical concepts and tunes.
As is customary in improv, the show's content is governed by audience members. As they arrive, they're handed pencil and paper and asked to write down titles of fictional songs. When BATS performers start the act, they pretend to be Broadway stars ready to sing a few melodies from their respective hit shows. They rummage through the audience's suggestions, pick out several, string them together with an improvised concept and title ("Hi, I'm Heidi, and this is 'You Slay Me' from Mafia!"), and start to sing. The effect? Perhaps BATS Artistic Director Regina Saisi puts it best when she says tactfully, "Some are hits and some are -- well, not so good." During the second half of the show viewers vote on the songs they liked best; the performers then present a lengthy musical based around the favored songs and containing an oft-hysterical medley of audience-titled tunes. The event starts at 8 p.m. at the Bayfront Theater in Fort Mason's Building B, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $12; call 474-8935 or visit www.improv.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Something Smells Funny
Did you hear the one about the incontinent fluffy kitty? You will at the first annual Marsh Comedy Festival, where comedian Liz White, obviously aware that the phrase "fluffy kitty" guarantees giggles, is staging a musical of the same name. It plays the festival along with Phyllis Dantzler's travelogue God and Vacation Hell, Scott Capurro's Erik Menendez-inspired Loaded, and opener Darryl Henriques' The Exile Returns. And that's just the scheduled entertainment; the Marsh also has a reputation for surprise guests. The laughter begins at 8 p.m. (and continues through Aug. 23) at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), S.F. Admission is $7-15; call 826-5750.
-- Heather Wisner
A broad take on the Bard
Gwyneth Paltrow's role might have had an entirely different tone in Shakespeare in Loveif she'd run across Woman's Will Shakespeare Company, a merry band of female thespians who play all the roles in the Bard's works and offer workshops on such subjects as fisticuffs and "Finding Your Inner Man." Like many Shakespeare companies, this one includes non-Shakespearean works in its repertory; this year the non-Willie pick is The Rover, a comedy by a woman whose own life would make a lively script. Seventeenth-century English spy and rumored James III mistress Aphra Behn was also (gasp!) a full-time writer. Rover, a tale of romantic intrigue -- in which weapons are brandished and marriage wryly analyzed -- reflects Behn's exceptional grasp of sex and power. The play's the thing at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Alta Plaza Park, Jackson & Steiner, S.F. Admission is free; call (510) 420-0813 or visit www.womanswill.org.
-- Heather Wisner
Movement With Meaning
Capacitor's techno tango
The body articulates things that language cannot, and seeing a Capacitor show should convince even the fiercest linguaphiles of this. The relatively young dance company uses aerial movement, fire, video, martial arts, and scientific research to create complex conceptual pieces that convey the essence of ideas like life inside a video game, the interaction between atoms and the atmosphere, and the continuous evolution of Homo sapiens.
Capacitor's newest show, Digging in the Dark, explores the concept of invisibility, uniting the geophysical mapping of the hidden layers below the Earth's surface with the terrain of the human mind. It plays four nights this week, beginning at 8 at the Alice Arts Theater, 1428 Alice (at 14th Street), Oakland. Admission is $10-15; call (510) 268-9808 or visit www.capacitor.org.
-- Karen Macklin
When Anne Bancroft propped a shapely leg up on the bed for Dustin Hoffman, a million older-woman fantasies were hatched. Since then, the plot of Mike Nichols' 1967 smash film hasn't lost its luster: The stage version enjoyed a successful Broadway run in 2002. Now the tale of a May-December romance gone wrong has hit S.F. The Graduate's national tour features Mick Jagger's beauteous ex-squeeze Jerry Hall as Mrs. Robinson, no doubt launching her own legion of sexy-senior-woman reveries amongst local theatergoers. The show previews tonight at 8 (and runs through Sept. 7) at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (at Taylor), S.F. Admission is $32-75; call 551-2000 or visit www.bestofbroadway-sf.com.
-- Joyce Slaton