Wednesday, June 17, 2015
The Thrillpeddlers Present Club Inferno
The Thrillpeddlers troupe at the tiny Hypnodrome theater South of Market has recently opened Club Inferno, another genderfuck musical revival that's an enormously entertaining riff on Dante's Inferno, with an all-female roster of sinners in the various circles of hell.
Thrillpeddlers producer/director Russell Blackwood above introduced the musical with a copy of Dante in one hand and a brick in the other. "We have a brick from the destroyed Palace Theater in North Beach where the Cockettes shows that we've revived over the last five years were performed in the early 1970s, and we also have a brick from the Paradise Lounge, the destroyed performance space where Club Inferno premiered in 1990." He ended his introduction with a translated quote from the opening lines of The Inferno: "In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost." Russell raised at least one eyebrow on the phrase, "the straight way was lost," though I prefer the Dorothy Sayers translation: "Midway this way of life we're bound upon,/I woke to find myself in a dark wood,/Where the right road was wholly lost and gone." Right, straight, it's sometimes a good thing to be lost.
The "glam rock musical" was written by Kelly Kittell, with music and lyrics by Peter Fogel, and musical direction and arrangements by Birdie-Bob Watt, who appears in this production as Xaron, the ferryman of the dead (or in this version, the elevator operator). Dante is a trashy female singer/dancer (Matthew Simmons aka Peggy L'eggs) who is killed by a falling stagelight and then guided through Hell by Virgil, well played by John Flaw with a handsome voice and a mean air guitar.
Part of the joy of Thrillpeddlers productions is their avoidance of musical amplification, so this show put me off at first because it's definitely amplified Glam Rock, but the musicianship of Steve Bolinger on guitar, Tommy Salami on drums, and Tim Perdue on bass won me over, and the sound mixing (with a few moments of feedback aside) was well done and appropriate for the small space.
The book of the musical was amusingly erudite and hewed both freely and closely to Dante's original. The Circle of the Lustful, for instance, includes Cleopatra in both the original poem and the musical, although the former didn't include dancing Furies and a Mummy for Noah Haydon's rendition of Love Is Hell.
There is a similarly reformist bent in the Circle of The Gluttonous where the lesbian lovers Mama Cass and Karen Carpenter (Leigh Crow and Amber Sommerfeld) get to eat whatever the hell they want without guilt, and sing about it happily in My Other Half.
Unusual for a musical, Act Two is better than Act One, providing a few great showpieces, including a production number for Leigh Crow as a murderous Lucrezia Borgia in Your New Best Friend...
...and a sweet, funny power ballad called Always Say Your Prayers for Amber Sommerfeld as Joan of Arc in the Circle of Heretics...
...culminating in the showstopping Little White Lies with David Bicha bringing down the house as the 1920s revival preacher Aimee Semple Macpherson. Highly recommended if this is your kind of entertainment (click here for tickets).