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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Shopping! The Musical. Some theater types want to be Hamlet; others want to be Liza Minnelli. The smiling, hardworking performers in this new musical revue definitely fall into the latter category. Lyricist-composer Morris Bobrow uses his infectious, irreverent humor to great effect as he pays homage to the highs and lows of our compellingly crass commercial culture. He uses the small, cramped theater in a straightforward manner — four center-stage stools and an amusing backdrop provide the set. The accomplished accompanist Ben Keim keeps things lively on one side of the stage behind an upright piano. The actors lead us through songs that bring to mind Jerry Seinfeld's sharp observations on mundane modern life: "Shopping in Style" extols the virtues of Costco, and "Serious Shopping" imagines a man trying to buy lettuce from a riotously over-the-top grocery cult. The musical runs just over an hour, yet it still has a few rough spots. The mid-show sketch "Checking Out" gives us a limp comedic premise that we've seen before on sub-par sitcoms, and the piece "5 & 10" is a mix of awkward nostalgia and pitch problems. Nevertheless, this is a clever collection of tunes performed with an unabashedly cheesy enthusiasm that would make Liza proud. In an open-ended run at the Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $25-29; call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.shoppingthemusical.com. (Frank Wortham) Reviewed June 14.

super: anti: reluctant. Local performance company Mugwumpin's press release proudly declares that it is interested in questioning the primacy of text and narrative in theater. With super: anti: reluctant it does that and more by chucking out any semblance of cohesive story line. The theme of this "ensemble-created assemblage" is "heroic archetypes and their sway over culture." I quote liberally from the press release because in creating this show involving (again to quote) "original and found music, text, gesture, and sheer freakishness" the results are befuddling and open to myriad interpretations. Five actors in black-and-gray business suits move frenetically and with the confusing tendency to speak over each other's dialogue. They mime putting on superhero outfits and play out a succession of unrelated scenes: homesteaders wagoning West to look for a plot of land, a woman writing a Philip Marlowe novel, and frustrated customers in line at a Starbucks. It's like an abstract expressionist painting, with a lo-fi set made of butcher paper and packing tape and sound cues coming from a '70s cassette deck. The meaning and emotional impact are left to the individual viewer. The opinion of one audience member I overheard after the show was "brilliant," while we left feeling bewildered. Through Dec. 15 at Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (between Taylor and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $10-20; call 673-3847 or visit www.sffringe.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Dec. 6.

The 14th Annual Evening of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy
New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific (Grant), 522-3737.
All Wear Bowlers
Berkeley Repertory's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.
BATS: Sunday Players
Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan, 474-6776.
Beach Blanket Babylon
Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.
Beyond Therapy
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Big City Improv
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Black Nativity
Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800.
Christmas Ballet
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard (at Third St.), 978-2787.
A Christmas Carol
American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.
Cinderella
Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320.
The Forest War
The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK Jr.), Berkeley, 510-841-6500.
Forever Tango
Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Mason), 321-2900.
GayProv Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
It Could Have Been A Wonderful Life
Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.
Jersey Boys
Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (between Taylor and Mason), 551-2000.
Jesus Christ Superstar
Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 512-7770.
A Little Cole in Your Stocking
Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.
Love, Chaos & Dinner
Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.
Magic Holiday
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Monday Night Improv Jam
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 368-9909.
Monday Night Make Em Ups
San Francisco Comedy College, 414 Mason, #705 (at Geary), 921-2051.
Monday Night Marsh
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Murder Mystery Dinner
The Archbishop's Mansion, 1000 Fulton (at Steiner), 563-7872.
The Nutcracker
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.
Oy Vey in a Manger
Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness (at Grove), 392-4400.
Queer Carol
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Rat Pack Is Back
Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter (at Mason), 771-6900.
The Santaland Diaries
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Traces Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon (at Bay), 567-6642.
Trimming the Holidays: The Second Annual Shorts Project
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
A Very Brechty X-Mas
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.

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