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‘Cable Car Nymphomaniac’ is fresh, funny musical comedy

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★★

“Cable Car Nympho” features (from left) Courtney Merrell, Rinabeth Apostol and Alex Rodriguez. Photo by Kevin Bronk.

Let anyone refer to “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” in the past and I’d probably think of the Grateful Dead.

That may be dead thinking now.

In the future, I’m likely to think instead of “The Cable Car Nymphomaniac,” a clever, bawdy musical comedy by the new FOGG Theatre troupe in San Francisco.

It’s that good. That fresh. That funny.

Its sex component was inspired by real events: In 1964, ex-dance instructor and Michigan transplant Gloria Sykes hit her head on a pole when her cable car lurched. Her suit against San Francisco five years later claimed the accident had caused a “demonic sex urge” that forced her have relations with more than 100 guys. The jury awarded $50,000.

Drugs in the show aren’t prevalent, merely a couple of joints (including one hand-me-down laced with slapstick).

And while the wide-ranging music is unlikely to fascinate Deadheads and is hardly integral to the storyline, its absence would greatly have diminished my enjoyment.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll indeed, just not your garden variety.

The situation lends itself to exaggeration, for sure, and being an easy target for parody. So it may surprise that the overriding theme of “Nympho” has less to do with sexuality per se than how a torpid housewife rouses to make her own choices.

(Although a major sub-text is that females are still being vilified for being sexual in the 21st century.)

I must admit, however, that “Nympho” left me a little flustered.

Praising virtually everybody connected with a production isn’t my usual critical style.

But consider, for instance, Tony Asaro.

He’s one of three FOGG founders, and doubles as its artistic director. Here he also deserves major credit for extraordinarily bright and sometimes salacious lyrics (“I’m the bourbon that melts your ice” and “adjust your slacks ‘cause here comes Gloria”).

He’s also composed 17 inventive melodies that gambol from hard rock to doo-wop to dissonance.

At the same time, Kirsten Guenther’s scythe-sharp book keeps the nearly two-hour, intermission-less show thrusting forward.

Director-choreographer Terry Berliner’s ingenuity becomes visible especially via a whimsical tango lesson and when comical angels flap their wings.

Berliner, who utilizes ensemble members in both male and female roles, clearly plays to his seven-member cast’s strengths.

Particularly David Naughton as Bruce, an uptight lawyer trapped in an outmoded morality; Steven Ennis, who excels in several cartoon-like, rubberfaced light-in-the-loafers roles; and Alex Rodriqguez, who wrings guffaws from super-seductive Eduardo and a mega-cheery plastic-ware peddler.

None of the other actor-singers are slouches either.

Take the company’s executive director, Carey McCray, for instance, who portrays hard-edged Esther, Bruce’s intern who contemptuously observes that “there is a system and it works as long as a woman knows her place.”

And who then roars, “Men fix the world — women fix lunch.”

Or Rinabeth Apostol as Gloria, the young woman saddled with constant male vibrations, someone who allegedly “sends out a carnal SOS.” Or Courtney Merrell as Bruce’s wife, Bryce, a gal desperately seeking herself. Or Hayley Lovgren, who energetically fills out the ensemble.

By the way, I found all the singing voices two octaves above adequate.

Supported effectively by Robert Michael Moreno’s keyboard and his four musical cohorts.

Oops! Almost forgot Jeff Rowlings.

His ingenious set design turns three cable car images and four wooden benches into about 217 stagecraft sensations.

I’d also be remiss if I ignored the costuming of Wes Crain, who jauntily contrasts Gloria’s ditzy glitziness with a fortune cookie-spouting guru’s over-the-topness.

FOGG, an acronym for Focus on Golden Gate, wants to examine the Bay Area’s history, communities, heroes, concerns and ideologies. So yes, “Cable Car Nymphomaniac” is indeed San Francisco-centric, including a lyric asserting that Gloria “gets around — from Laurel Heights to Union Square.”

But the locale’s only a backdrop.

I can easily see the musical doing well with sophisticated audiences in New York, St. Louis, London — actually, anywhere people would enjoy originality, wit and assorted music.

If a problem exists with the show, it’s that Asaro and company have set an incredibly high bar for their next production.

And the one after that.


“The Cable Car Nymphomaniac” will run at Z Below, 470 Florida St., San Francisco, through Feb. 8. Night performances, Wednesday through Saturday, 8 p.m. Matinees, Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets: $25-$30. Information: (866) 811-4111 or

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