Kelly Kittell (Concept, Book & Lyrics)
Peter Fogel (Music & Lyrics)
In full gender bending, drag queen, and divas-galore style, Thrillpeddlers revives the 2000 glam rock musical Club Inferno with gusto, glamour, and glitter. Based on Dante’s Divine Comedy and with a plot overlay of The Wizard of Oz, Club Inferno recounts the unexpected journey that rock performer Dante takes to hell and back after she hits her head during a performance at rock venue, Club Inferno. Waking to find herself at the lowest depths of the fiery kingdom and believing she is not really dead, Dante is desperate to find her way back home. Enter the guitar-playing, Greek great Virgil who pledges in song to rescue the wild-haired blonde (I’ll Help You Find Your Way) and who introduces her to Xaron, the conveyer of souls out of Hell. Together, the threesome begin to traverse the nine levels of the Nether World via an electrifying elevator that Xaron controls with his scythe, rocking out together with full band accompaniment, You’ve Got to Get Down (“in order to go up”).
The fun really begins as our trio encounters on each level famous personages who are damned for eternity but are still eager to sing and entertain any passers-by. On the Level of Lustful, a strikingly tall, wide-eyed Cleopatra opines Love Is Hell; Noah Haydon delivers the Nile Queen’s stories of unfulfilled love with strong voice and pizzazz. Coming out from the depths of the Gluttonous Level, a zaftig Mama Cass (Leigh Crow) first says in Martha-cynicism “What a dump!” and then joins in a particularly strong, well-sung duet with none other than bulimic Karen Carpenter (Amber Sommerfeld). It seems the two are now lesbian lovers who relay in My Other Half a number of dualities that bonds them together: “I am the doughnut”, “I am the hole;” “I am dessert,” “I am casserole;” “I am Duncan, I am Hines.” Act One ends as three women whose final demise involved losing their heads (Marie Antoinette, Isadora Duncan, and Jayne Mansfield) enter as just heads on silver platters. Via the lowest of modern technology but serving up the night’s best entre in terms of entertainment value, the heads of Noah Haydon, David Bicha, and Zelda Koznofski bobble When Your Number’s Up (“you gotta go”) while their headless bodies dance wildly before them.
Continuing toward the upper regions of Hades in Act Two, Dante, Virgil, and Xaron meet more damned luminaries, with some knockout performances along the way. Noah Haydon returns this time as Durga (the 8-armed wife of Shiva in Hindu mythology) on Level Fraudulent, aided by a back-up chorus who become her waving arms as she totally lets loose on Blow Your Mind Away. Particularly noteworthy in white, sparkling cleric’s cloak (with huge, diamonded cross) is Sister Aimee (a Pentecostal evangelist who allegedly milked her faithful throngs of their dollars so that she could vacation with a married man). David Bicha is delightful as he sermons in song about Little White Lies. And maybe the funniest moment of the evening is when the Ice Queen herself, Judy Garland (Zelda Koznofski), enters with red slippers and body frozen in a cube and belts as only Judy can, “Angels and devils are everywhere on the road to fame.” Of course Judy, on this final level of Great Abyss, ushers in a little Oz conclusion to Dante’s plunge and resurrection into and out of the regions of sin.
On opening night, the otherwise joyful journey to the hot pit was marred, especially in the first half, by our trio being over-miked to the point of frequent distortion. Understanding Peggy L’Eggs as Dante (a.k.a. Matthew Simmons) -- who also tended to over-sing and thus go off key too often that first half – and Birdie-Bob Watt as Xaron was often near impossible. Maybe they were just trying to perform in true glam-rock style, but losing the lyrics in a musical story is not worth ensuring the totally authenticity of the genre. As Virgil, John Flaw was much more successful than his fellow travelers in the opening numbers and half to play his lead guitar and deliver a relatively strong, clear line of vocal melody even with the miking system on steroids.
Any Thrillpeddlers production seems to excel particularly in the costume and make-up departments. Club Inferno is ever more fun and eye-catching due to the period-appropriate costumes that lend authenticity while retaining expected Thrillpeddler outlandishness. (Kudos to Glenn Krumbholz, Jim Kumiego, and Tina Sogliuzzo). Likewise, eyes and lips full of glitter, nails and cheeks of every hue, and needed scars and scares are the art works of wig master and make-up advisor Flynn DeMarco (probably aided by the creativity of many of the actors themselves). James Blackwood’s scene-setting floor and wall paints and simple, yet effective props round out the effects needed to create rock club and hell alike.
Along with seeing Beach Blanket Babylon, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate, I find myself these days advising visitors to include a night at the Hypnodrome and Thrillpeddlers if they want that to have that ‘only-in-San-Francisco” experience. Maybe the Company will not produce the next Broadway hit or meet the expectation of some high-browed theatre-goers, but my experience says almost anyone is sure to have a mind-boggling, first-class night of fun when visiting 575 10th Street, San Francisco.
Rating: 3 E’s
Club Inferno continues at Thrillpeddlers’ Hypnodrome through August 8, 2015.