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House of Tudor 

Gorgeous gams, Country Teasers, and a smattering of sin

Wednesday, Jul 24 2002
Depending on your age, you might remember Ann Miller as the comely brunette who danced atop a soup can in an early '70s Heinz commercial, or you could recall her as the luscious "showgirl with the heart of gold" who tapped through MGM's golden age of musical comedies. Or, perhaps, you may only know her from David Lynch's Mulholland Drive or her appearances on Home Improvement. (If so, we'll pretend otherwise.)

Miller was originally discovered by Lucille Ball here in San Francisco, where the young dancer supported her mother by performing at the Bal Tabarin nightclub. Allegedly, Miller was the ripe age of 13 when she signed a seven-year contract with RKO, which would've made her just about 14 when she played Ginger Rogers' dancing partner in 1937's Stage Door (and not much older when she appeared in the Academy Award-winning You Can't Take It With You). Whatever the truth, by the time Rogers gave her the nickname "Stringbean," Miller already stood 5 feet 7 inches (most of it leg), which made her as tall as most of the day's leading men. Her height, more than her age and ability, might've accounted for her frequent billing as the girlfriend rather than the love interest; nevertheless, Miller's effervescent personality and gorgeous gams made her a crowd favorite. Eventually she co-starred with Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland, the Marx Brothers, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Fred Astaire; she also went on to grab and keep the record for the most on-screen taps per second. Of course, the death of movie musicals eventually sent Miller's legs to Broadway, but not before three tumultuous marriages -- the first to a hard-drinking, wife-beating steel heir, the following two to hard-drinking, womanizing oil tycoons -- supplied ample material for a bold and sassy autobiography in 1972 called Miller's High Life. (Her second book, Tapping Into the Force, focused on Miller's psychic abilities, while also mentioning her past life as the Egyptian queen Hatshepsut.)

Friday night, for "Too Darn Hot," the feisty 80-year-old tap-dancing spiritualist will be interviewed by Jan Wahl. Afterward, there'll be a presentation of Kiss Me Kate, a musical within a musical based on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, in its original 3-D format. (At last, all the chair-hurling makes sense.) Fab Matthew Martin and Connie Champagne will perform before the screening, and perhaps Miller will even offer up a shuffle or two on July 26 at the Castro Theatre (429 Castro) at 8 p.m. General admission is $25; $50 scores you the intimate meet-and-greet and preferred seating at 6 p.m. Call 863-0611 or go to for more info.

Inspired in equal parts by Billy Childish, Mark E. Smith, and Pussy Galore, the Scottish miscreants known as the Country Teasers put enough barbs and bile in their garage-country goulash to make Americana noise-makers like Doo Rag seem like wimpy purists. The music, a collision of traditional country instrumentation and electronic feedback, can be drunkenly inspired or decisively abusive, but it makes no apologies either way. Likewise, singer B.R. Wallers is a little too clever and a lot too misanthropic to bother with PC hat-tipping, as he sings about killing off all the women and children first, or drolly rolls over the words, "I like the swastika, I also like the Jew/ I like the Negro and the KKK too." If you don't get it, tough shit; if you like to writhe and sweat and slap your knee while singing "Lazy black and white cunts" in a trancelike state, this is the place to be. The Country Teasers perform at the Hemlock Tavern on Friday, July 26, with the Bassholes opening at 10 p.m. Tickets are $6; call 923-0923.

I like to laugh but I'm really not a joke person, which means none of my close friends wastes material or comedy tickets on me. So my eager attendance at the "7 Sins" weekly comedy series came as a surprise, but the premise -- a half-dozen performers recounting real-life experiences with the seven transgressions -- was enticing. In previous nights I had missed lusty tales about an elaborate scheme to hide a cache of porn and a 13-year-old's attempt to seduce her neighbor while wearing headgear. I had missed envy running rampant in the last Haight Street sex commune and greed pushing good people to "spare change" and sneak on Muni. I had missed prideful moments that led to misunderstood marriage proposals from Spanish race-car drivers, trips to the Canary Islands, and several visits to the emergency room, but I wasn't going to miss out on my favorite sin of all. My night of "Wrath" included enthralling tales of villainous book report queens, the SLA, and The Young and the Restless, as well as childbirth, blazing cars, burglar alarms, dog shit, homicidal office clerks, homophobia, and severe emotional instability. It was one of the funniest nights I'd had all year. This week's "Best of 7 Sins" will include one performer from each of the seven shows. (Bridget Schwartz should not be missed.) Next year, I hope director James Judd will expand the series to include the Sufi "sins" of fear and dishonesty. The "Best of 7 Sins" will be held Sunday and Monday, July 28-29, and Sunday, Aug. 4, at 8 p.m. at Venue 9 (252 Ninth St.). A 5 p.m. matinee will also take place on Aug. 4. Tickets are $10; call 820-3947.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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