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Arts & Culture » Theater

Hellraising high jinks

by Richard Dodds

Birdie-Bob Watt, left, plays a guide through hell for a recently deceased rock diva played by Peggy L'eggs in Thrillpeddlers' production of <i>Club Inferno.</i> Photo: davidallenstudio.com
Birdie-Bob Watt, left, plays a guide through hell for a recently deceased rock diva played by Peggy L'eggs in Thrillpeddlers' production of Club Inferno. Photo: davidallenstudio.com  

When you're in hell, a little breathing room is always appreciated. Club Inferno has found that breathing room at the Hypnodrome, where it can fully spread its not-so-angelic wings in Thrillpeddlers' production of the rock-n-drag musical.

Club Inferno was first seen in 2000 at a now-shuttered SoMa nightclub. Its ambitions were bigger than the small stage at the Paradise Lounge could accommodate, and some crossover casting between performers and musicians also hampered the material's ability to strut its stuff. But with a history of staging elaborate Grand Guignol bloodfests and, more recently, extravagant revivals of Cockettes musicals, Thrillpeddlers gives Club Inferno a happy new home for its deviltry.

Created by Kelly Kittell (concept, book, and lyrics) and Peter Fogel (music and lyrics), the musical uses Dante's Divine Comedy to tell the tale of a glam rocker's journey through Hades. The 14th-century poet wrote about the nine circles of hell, each labeled for a different sin, and that provides a convenient structure for a musical that is partly a showcase revue. In each circle, Dante finds herself in the company of a dead celebrity of different vintages with some connection to the designated transgression. Cleopatra is among the lustful, Mama Cass is with the gluttonous, and Lucretia Borgia hangs with a violent breed.

Thrillpeddlers majordomo Russell Blackwood is well-versed in smoothly directing large casts through multiple scenes of extravagant exuberance, and it's a skill well-suited to Club Inferno with its furious changes in tone, characters, and locale. Fogel's music is a rock-based pastiche of styles that can find echoes in the Mersey Beat, psychedelia, Rocky Horror, or bubblegum pop, and Marilynn Fowler's choreography playfully captures the steps of the appropriate madness.

A show like Club Inferno is designed to let performers revel in individual flamboyance, and most of the cast hits the right high notes. As Dante, the fatally injured rock diva Peggy L'eggs (aka Matthew Simmons) has a fabulously comic trashiness suggesting a melding of Charo and Joanna Lumley's AbFab character as she is transported by "hellivator" through the circles of hell. Birdie-Bob Watt plays Xaron, Dante's primary guide through hell, with a sly world-weary impatience and idiosyncratic timing. Watt is also the show's musical director, contributor of additional material, and is sometimes at the keyboard with a fierce band led by Steve Bolinger.

Among other performance highlights, there is the always vivacious Noah Haydon as Cleopatra, multi-limbed Hindu goddess Durga, and Marie Antoinette. In the latter role, he is joined by Zelda Koznofski as Jayne Mansfield and David Bicha as Isadora Duncan as a headless trio separated from their still-prancing bodies. Bicha may have the strongest voice in the cast, both as Duncan and later as the roof-raising evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, who has a bit of Baby Jane Hudson about her. As welcome as ever, Leigh Crow reprises her roles from the 2000 production as Mama Cass and Lucrezia Borgia. Adding a shot of testosterone, John Flaw plays Dante's chaperone Virgil.

Another asset of having Thrillpeddlers revive your show is getting its costume expertise, with Glenn Krumbholz, Jim Kumiega, and Tina Sogliuzzo designing the hellacious outfits this time around. The wigs and makeup that Flynn DeMarco devised are also a big plus for a show that both comfortably fits in and merrily stretches the Thrillpeddlers canon.

 

Club Inferno will run through Aug. 8 at the Hypnodrome. Tickets are $30-$35. Call (415) 661-1260 or go to hypnodrome.org.

 

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