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Our critics weigh in on local theatre

The Lion King. How do you turn a decent cartoon about African wildlife into a lame Broadway musical? 1) Puzzle carefully about the problem of costumes and sets. Pour millions of dollars and hours of mental energy into making your actors look like lions, hyenas, elephants, wildebeests, giraffes, and birds. Solve the problem brilliantly. Hire Julie Taymor to design the magnificent costumes and masks (and to direct the show). Hire Garth Fagan to choreograph elegant, exciting, Afro-Caribbean dance routines. Make sure Donald Holder lights the stage with an eloquent feeling for African distances and sunshine. In general make the show a visual feast. Then, 2) squint in confusion at the script, and 3) carve it up to make room for appalling songs by Tim Rice and Elton John. You"ll have a profitable bunch of nonsense with more than one God-soaked number that sounds indistinguishable from bad Whitney Houston. The only cast member who can transcend this mess and give a stirring performance is Thandazile Soni, as Rafiki the monkey shaman, who gets to sing songs like "Nants' Ingonyama," by Lebo M, and other African chants originated by Tsidii Le Loka on Broadway. Bob Bouchard is also funny as Pumbaa the warthog, and Derek Smith plays a perfectly arrogant, sinister Scar, the pretender lion king. Otherwise the show is forced and childish. Adults looking for good theater will be happier when the performers dance instead of trying to act. Through Sept. 5 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1182 Market (at Eighth Street), S.F. Tickets are $26-160; call 512-7770 or visit Reviewed Feb. 11.

The Time of Your Life. William Saroyan's snapshot of San Francisco just before World War II can be sentimental, old-fashioned, and cheesy; a director needs a steely-eyed vision of the play in order to make it work. Tina Landau, happily, knew just what she was doing when she directed The Time of Your Life at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater two years ago. Now she's brought it to ACT -- in a co-production with Seattle Rep -- with brilliant results. The regulars at Nick's Pacific Street Saloon could be played as paint-by-numbers Local Color, but Landau's cast avoids the trap either by exaggerating the roles or by diving straight through them. The action moves up and around the audience, onto scaffoldings and into the box seats. The play literally overflows the stage, and Landau finds the real, democratic feeling behind Saroyan's effusions. Through May 2 at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $30; call 677-9596 or visit Reviewed April 7.

Also Playing

After the Fall: Actors Theatre's revamp of Arthur Miller's autobiographical play about a lawyer who analyzes his life's successes and failures, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, through May 22; $5-$20. Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.

Antigone Falun Gong: Sophocles' original debate over individual rights versus the power of the state easily takes to Cherylene Lee's adaptation, which centers on Antigone's decision to defy the state by openly practicing a forbidden religion, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through May 16; $28-$40. Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

Are We Almost There?: Morris Bobrow's rollicking, long-running musical comedy about the trials and tribulations of travel, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, $20-$22. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

BATS: Sunday Players: Each week Bay Area Theatresports players pit their improv work against all comers as the audience votes them off one by one until the winner stands alone on the stage, 8 p.m. Sundays, $8, 474-6776 (information). Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan.

Beach Blanket Babylon: This North Beach perennial features crazy hats, media personality caricatures, a splash of romance, and little substance, 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7 and 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays, $25-$65. Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

The Chris Karney Show: A demented variety show full of booze-happy comics, yo-yo masters, pancake jugglers, and a bikini-clad card girl who's a dead ringer for Myrna Loy, 10 p.m. Saturday, April 24, free. Odeon, 3223 Mission (at Valencia), 550-6994.

Die Fledermaus: Strauss' classic comic opera is dusted off by Opera San Jose, 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays-Sundays, through May 2, $43-$63. Montgomery Theater, Market & San Carlos, San Jose, 408-277-3900.

Dirty Blonde: Claudia Shear's comedy follows the exploits of Mae West and two of her many lovers, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 26; $10-$25. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

Dybbuk: The Traveling Jewish Theatre company's adaptation of the Yiddish theater classic story of a love affair so powerful not even death can destroy it; Previews, 8 p.m., through Saturday, April 24; Opening night, 7 p.m. Sunday, April 25; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through May 23; $18-$30. Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 285-8282.

EUBIE! The Music of Eubie Blake: Relive the Roaring Twenties and the legendary artistry of Eubie Blake as San Francisco performers take on classics like "Charleston Rag" and "I'm Just Wild About Harry," 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through May 16, $20-$35. Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800.

Flaming Iguanas: Based on the best-selling graphic novel by Erika Lopez, the play follows bisexual heroine Tomato Rodriguez on a cross-country motorcycle quest for lust, love, and the meaning of life, 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, through Friday, April 23, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 24; $15-$25. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.

Fringe of Marin Festival: A quirky slate of one-acts and solo performance pieces dominates this multi-week annual event, 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through May 2; $3-$10. Meadowlands Assembly Hall, Dominican College, 50 Acacia, San Rafael, 457-4440.

The Importance of Being Earnest: The Asian American Theater Company's adaptation of Oscar Wilde's classic adapts its language to that of modern San Francisco, 8 p.m. Fridays, 8 and 10 p.m. Saturdays, through May 29; $15-$35. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's religion-themed musical is dusted off by the City College of San Francisco Music and Theatre Arts Departments, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through May 2. Diego Rivera Theater/CCSF, 50 Phelan (at Judson), 239-3100.

The Miser: Moliere's classic comedy about a man so cheap he's a legend, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, pay what you can, 7 p.m. Sundays, through May 2. Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College (at Derby), Berkeley, 510-845-8542.

Mooi Street Moves: Paul Slabolepszy's tense drama follows a range of characters struggling to survive in South Africa, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, through May 2; $10-$22. Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

My Á ntonia: A stage adaptation of Willa Cather's novel about an immigrant girl who faces many challenges on the American Western frontier, 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, through Friday, April 23, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 24, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, April 25; $20-$50. Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro (at Mercy), Mountain View, 650-903-6000.

Mystery of Irma Vep: Charles Ludlam's cult play spoofs Victorian penny dreadfuls and classic horror films, 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through May 23; $39-$55. Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.

The News Show: BATS Improv performers pull the inspiration for their impromptu skits from the day's headlines, 8 p.m. Saturday, April 24, $12, 474-6776 (information). Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan.

Not a Genuine Black Man: KGO talk show star and comic Brian Copeland's solo show talks about growing up black in one of the most racist suburbs of America -- San Leandro, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through May 15; $15-$22, 641-0235 (information and reservations). The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

Saint Joan of the Stockyards: Custom Made Theatre Company's adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's epic play examines the battle between labor leader Joan Dark and the Chicago meat king who exploits his workers, 8 p.m. Friday, April 23, and Saturday, April 24, 2 p.m. Sunday, April 25; $15-$18. Venue 9, 252 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 289-2000.

San Francisco Improv Festival: Twelve weeks, hundreds of performances in this all-impromptu-theater extravaganza, through June 26, see for a schedule of events. Multiple locations.

The Sisters Rosenweig: Actors Ensemble of Berkeley takes on Wendy Wasserstein's droll comedy about a tumultuous family reunion, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through May 16, $10, 510-649-5999 (information). Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck (at Berryman), Berkeley, (510) 704-8210.

Slaughter City: Naomi Wallace's riveting drama explores the trials and tribulations of assembly-line workers at a meat processing plant, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through May 8, $15-$20, 675-5995 (information). Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

Smell of the Kill: A darkly comic look of three miserable wives who argue over whether they should free their husbands from the meat locker they"re trapped in, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, through May 15, $30-$50. The Playhouse, 536 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.

Strange Travel Suggestions: Inveterate traveler Jeff Greenwald spins tales of his worldwide journeys, 8 p.m. Wednesdays, through May 26, $15-$22. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

The Sweet New: Raymond Rea's play takes a look at social, political, and emotional changes in three generations of an Italian-American family, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through May 8, $15-$20. Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (between Taylor & Mason), 673-3847.

Teatro ZinZanni: A blend of European cabaret, circus arts, and original music with a five-course gourmet dinner, in an open-ended run, 6 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; $99-$125, 438-2668 (tickets), Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.

Valparaiso: Don DeLillo's comic drama dissects the modern desire to make one's mark upon the mass media, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through May 8, $15-$25. Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 673-3847.

Vaulting the Median: Stories of Protest on Camino Alto: Students at Tamalpais High School put together this original play with notes from over 50 interviews conducted with those who have been in protests; the resulting narrative is an exploration of local civic issues, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 22, through Sunday, April 25, $5-$15. Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller (at Evergreen), Mill Valley, 388-5208.

Woods for the Trees: A modern takeoff on the classic fairy tale "Hansel & Gretel" that deals with the legend's mistrust of authority, 8 p.m. Thursday, April 22, through Saturday, April 24, $12-$20. Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), 621-7978.


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