by Dalt Wonk
At it’s 1970 San Francisco premiere, Pearls Over Shanghai was described by a critic as “a lurid, acid-trippy faux-operetta.” The Shanghai currently on the boards at the AllWays Lounge & Theatre is a distilled version of the same mind-boggling brew, but still not for tots or preachers.
It’s a decadent delight, but you can’t entirely escape the feeling you should apologize to someone for enjoying it.
Two American tourists (Melody Keel and Allee Peck), lovely women wearing very short dresses and fishnet stockings, arrive by boat at a pier that leads to a bare stage, dominated by a large Hell’s mouth. They have entered a campy enclave of “the yellow peril.”
A plump rat named Chop Chop (Chris Wecklein) is a minion of the evil Mother Fu (Nicole C.W. Gruter), and she commands him to kidnap the Yankee virgins so they can be imprisoned in her whorehouse. They look about as virginal as Mother Fu looks Chinese. Mother Fu, it should be noted, has a long thin beard and mustache. This gender bending fills the show and adds to its surreality.
Captain Eddy (John Michael Haas), an impossibly well-hung sailor, and his nearly nude, much-tattooed shipmate (Andy Overslaugh) are undecided about any course of action except sex play, which is the main occupation in this port.
To follow the precise ins and outs of the narrative is daunting and nearly irrelevant. The show is marked by many song and dance numbers, the excellent five-piece band (including violin and clarinet) and some captivating surprises, such as the slinky but graceful four-breasted green lizard (Leah Kahn).
A tip of the hat to band leader and composer Matt Bell, Alicia Zenobia for her costumes and director Nari Tomasetti for keeping this X-rated chaos energetic and largely entertaining, although every once in a while, the huffing and puffing go over the top.
Through Dec. 1
Pearls Over Shanghai
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
AllWays Lounge & Theatre, 2240 St. Claude Ave., (504) 218-5778