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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Jubilee. With the storm clouds of revolution apparently gathering just beyond their gates, and the doldrums of decorum weighing heavily on their souls, a fictional British royal family goes slumming among life-loving commoners and comes home feeling inspired. This 1935 divertissement, conceived by playwright Moss Hart and composer-lyricist Cole Porter while on a five-month luxury cruise with their famous friends, is the show that 42nd Street Moon started up with in 1993, revisited to much acclaim in 1997, and has very winningly brought out once again. If this Eureka Theatre production doesn't affirm the endurance of Depression-era musical farce, nothing will. Director Greg MacKellan gives his committed cast — including Megan Cavanagh, Michael Patrick Gaffney, Juliet Heller, and Andrew Willis-Woodward as the wayward royals — some fun bits of business to play with, and Tom Segal's ambitious choreography goes well beyond mere jutting elbows and jazz hands. If you're someone who still hopes for a good Porter-Hart musical, it's just what you'd hope: swift and fizzy and quippy and quite fun to be with. Through Dec. 13 at Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), S.F. $34-$44; 255-8207 or www.42ndstmoon.org. (Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed Dec. 9.

Let It Snow! Improv usually works best when it puts less emphasis on concept and more on execution; an ambitious concept can be so distracting that the actors forget to be funny. That's certainly the case with the Un-Scripted Theater Company's fourth annual production of Let It Snow!, billed as "an improvised holiday musical" and performed by a peppy rotating cast. The show begins with director Mandy Khoshnevisan asking random audience members to describe their hometowns. Then the audience votes on which place of origin sounds most interesting (or most horrifying), and the troupe performs a two-hour holiday musical set in that town. It's a cute idea, but it would be cuter as a 30-minute lark — two hours of improvised singing is asking an awful lot of both actors and audience. At a recent preview (set in the Central Valley burg of Paradise), the actors broke into a tentative production number every 10 minutes or so, but that sort of trick is only funny if the numbers are funny, and these weren't very funny at all. Maybe it works better with a different cast warbling about a different hometown — but Let It Snow! feels like a concept that just doesn't sing. Through Dec. 19 at SF Playhouse Second Stage, 588 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. $10-$20; 869-5384 or www.un-scripted.com. (Chris Jensen) Reviewed Dec. 9.

Pulp Scripture. This play has an odd genesis. It was originally penned as a sexed-up, bawdy retelling of some of the Old Testament stories for performances at — a church! San Francisco's Saint Mary the Virgin billed it as "Bible stories they didn't teach you in Sunday school." The play then transferred to the irreverent SF Fringe Festival, where it completely sold out and won Best New Comedy, and now it's running at the very funny theater company PianoFight. Playwright William Bivens stays true to the Scriptures and their lessons, but emphasizes their deviance and pulp fiction–esque qualities. In the Book of Ruth, "uncover his feet" is said to be a euphemism for oral sex; in Judah and Tamar, goats are used to pay for sex; in Abram and Sarai in Egypt, a wife is "pimped" for God. The play, perhaps understandably, has an identity crisis; it neither commits to a straightforward retelling of these Bible stories, nor gives in to full lampooning of the tales. This, along with a shaky actor or two and no set, makes for a very uneven production. There are laughs, but what seems to be the central message is that the Old Testament is chock-full of prostitutes, incest, sodomy, murder, and yes, blow jobs. Through Dec. 20 at the Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), S.F. $20; www.pianofight.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Nov. 25.

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Under the Gypsy Moon. Storylines don't really matter in a Teatro ZinZanni production; they just provide a loose framework for the circuslike acts everyone comes to see while they enjoy a fancy five-course meal. In the group's latest three-hour show, the Spiegeltent is invaded by thieving gypsies (so much for political correctness), who, in addition to being skilled swindlers, are also (surprise) skilled blues singers, jugglers, and acrobats. As one would expect, the trapeze work is impressive, especially the comic rope-play by Sabine Maier and Joachim Mohr, who manage to fall over themselves without falling down. The evening's most satisfying moments, however, happen on the ground. A juggling number set to Prince's "Kiss" is simple but delightful, and Mat Plendl dazzled the audience with his mastery of the hula hoop. Unfortunately, too many of the cabaret's comedy bits are lame. Punny punchlines delivered by a Henny Youngman-like character played by Geoff Hoyle (the original Zazu in the Broadway production of The Lion King) are especially groan-inducing. Those cheesy moments leave a bad taste in your mouth, as does some of the food, which is passable but not stellar. While Under the Gypsy Moon does deliver some magical moments, unless you've got a lot of disposable cash, it's an evening perhaps best left to the tourists to enjoy. Through Jan. 17 at the Spiegeltent, Pier 29 (at Battery), S.F. $117-$195; 438-2668 or www.zinzanni.org. (Will Harper) Reviewed Sept. 30.

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