Thrillpeddlers Opens Its Season Debaucherously with Vice Palace

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Tony Wichowski and Leigh Crow in Vice Palace
​We can't get enough of Thrillpeddlers, San Francisco's theater of fetish, the grotesque, and the ridiculous. Starting their 2012 season Friday night, Thrillpeddlers revive two of their recent musicals originally written by the Cockettes, a gender-bending San Francisco troupe from the late 1960s and early '70s. Vice Palace: The Last Cockettes Musical runs Jan. 27 through March 3, and Hot Greeks runs March 22 through May 5. The latter is restored from the cut version that played in 2010 to a full-length musical revue.

Were it not for artistic director Russell Blackwood, his dedicated cast (most of whom will reprise their original roles), and his Theatre du Grand Guignol-inspired venue, the Hypnodrome, the Cockettes' absurdist musical revues might well be lost to history. But thanks to his partnership with composer Scrumbly Koldewyn, a founding member of the Cockettes, the rollicking pieces will enjoy one final celebratory run before the group moves on to new projects.

Vice Palace, in Blackwood's words, chronicles "a Noah's Ark for the fabulous." A plague rages outside an Italian villa where the worthy have quarantined themselves. But for hostess Divina (drag king Leigh Crow), a quarantine should be above-all entertaining, hence the musical revue, the gaudy costumes and the ludicrous wigs. For Blackwood, the production was "absolutely a precursor to the AIDS crisis, but it doesn't hit you over the head with it" precisely because, written in 1972, the show had no real foreknowledge. It's also a lot more fun.

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Scrumbly Koldewyn and Russell Blackwood
Hot Greeks' origins dig even deeper into history, with an adaptation of Aristophanes' Lysistrata. The idea of women withholding sex to make war stop is transposed to the subgenre of the late-1930s college football musical. "A story about sexuality that's as wonderfully cut and dry as Lysistrata is perfect for the Cockettes, who are all about gender anarchy," says Blackwood. The actresses playing footballers and actors playing their girlfriends at Athens University will have even more ridiculous songs to sing, as Koldewyn has added material, some from memory, some from recovered sheet music, and some that's new.

And all this, as Blackwood says, while someone's getting his throat slit or wearing a crab costume.

Vice Palace begins Friday (Jan. 27) and continues through March 3, and Hot Greeks begins March 22 and continues through May 5, at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St (at Division), S.F. Admission is $30-$35.

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The Divine Miss Laura Ma Dugan
The Divine Miss Laura Ma Dugan

Wonderful production in NYC at Studio 80 St. Marks - I am sure in their own space it is even better! Wish I could be there to cheer you all on - and enjoy some of the other shows in this cycle - You done Good, Russell!

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