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Luma. At the beginning of this theatrical celebration of lighting effects, creative director Marlin (a juggler and comedian by background, who drops his first name, Michael, when in showbiz mode) comes out dressed in tight-fitting black velvet pants and matching top. He proceeds to perform, for no apparent reason, a few fairly nondescript stunts involving orange balls, hoops, and pieces of luminous green string. He cracks a few self-deprecating jokes. Then he goes away, leaving us wondering if we've wandered into the wrong theater. When the houselights finally go down, we're faced with a series of brief, mostly unrelated, episodes, staged in the dark around various light-sources, such as LEDs, chemical luminescence, and neon. Black-clothed performers dance around in rough formation, wielding a variety of props (luminous balls, rings, ropes, geometric shapes, oversized spongy fish, etc.) in time to music. Some of the individual effects in Luma are striking. There's something sweetly meditative about watching small blue balls bobbing about in the blackness, or giant white silk sails reflecting colorful, patterned stage lights. But it's not long before the endless parade of seemingly random staccato scenes becomes monotonous. Lacking any real fireworks, Luma fails to ignite. Through Jan. 19 at Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St. (between Mission and Capp), S.F. Tickets are $5-30; call 863-7576 or visit www.victoriatheatre.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 10.

Menopause the Musical. Set in Bloomingdale's department store, this play unites four contrasting female characters — an Iowa housewife, an executive, a soap star, and a hippie — through the combined forces of cut-price lingerie and hormone replacement therapy. Singing doctored versions of 1960s and '70s pop favorites like "Stayin' Alive" ("Stayin' Awake") and "Puff, the Magic Dragon" ("Puff, My God I'm Draggin'"), the ladies potter from floor to floor, sharing their worst menopausal hang-ups as they try on clothes, rifle through sales racks, and run in and out of the store's many strategically placed powder rooms. Although Menopause is entertaining and energetically performed, it's unabashedly tacky. An ode to the delights of masturbation, sung down a pink microphone to an adaptation of the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations," for instance, makes one think that all that's missing from this (very) belated bachelorette party is a male stripper. And as much as the show makes its largely 40-plus female audience feel more comfortable about getting older, it doesn't go far enough. Menopause is euphemistically referred to as "the change," which just seems to reinforce taboos. And its obsession with shopping, sex, and cellulite makes Menopause feel a lot like a geriatric issue of Cosmo. Rather than empowering women, the musical ends up underscoring clichés. In an open-ended run at Theatre 39, Pier 39, Beach & Embarcadero, S.F. Tickets are $46.50; call 433-3939 or visit www.menopausethemusical.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 11.

Shopping! The Musical. Some theater types want to be Hamlet; others want to be Liza Minnelli. The smiling, hardworking performers in this new musical revue definitely fall into the latter category. Lyricist-composer Morris Bobrow uses his infectious, irreverent humor to great effect as he pays homage to the highs and lows of our compellingly crass commercial culture. He uses the small, cramped theater in a straightforward manner — four center-stage stools and an amusing backdrop provide the set. The accomplished accompanist Ben Keim keeps things lively on one side of the stage behind an upright piano. The actors lead us through songs that bring to mind Jerry Seinfeld's sharp observations on mundane modern life: "Shopping in Style" extols the virtues of Costco, and "Serious Shopping" imagines a man trying to buy lettuce from a riotously over-the-top grocery cult. The musical runs just over an hour, yet it still has a few rough spots. The mid-show sketch "Checking Out" gives us a limp comedic premise that we've seen before on sub-par sitcoms, and the piece "5 & 10" is a mix of awkward nostalgia and pitch problems. Nevertheless, this is a clever collection of tunes performed with an unabashedly cheesy enthusiasm that would make Liza proud. In an open-ended run at the Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $25-29; call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.shoppingthemusical.com. (Frank Wortham) Reviewed June 14.

The Anthony Newley Project
Empire Plush Room, York Hotel, 940 Sutter (at Hyde), 885-2800.
Bakla Show
Bindlestiff Studio, 185 Sixth St. (at Howard), 974-1167.
Beckett in Winter
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Death of a Salesman
Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.
Emperor Norton, The Musical
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Farm Boys
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Jersey Boys
Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (between Taylor and Mason), 551-2000.
The Magnificence of the Disaster
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
The Merry Widow
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, 701 Mission (at Third St.), 978-ARTS.
Strangers We Know
Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822.
Women on the Way Festival
Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St. (at Mission), 826-4401.

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