The Arts
May 23-29, 2007

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Showdown: Thunderbabe (Bobbi Fagone) goes toe to toe with Toxic Passion (Heather Gordon).

Up in the Sky

'Thunderbabe' brings a new dimension to the superheroine genre

By Marianne Messina

BOBBI FAGONE'S Thunderbabe, a little diamond in the rough, confirms that if you dig deep enough in the Bay Area, you can mine more than mercury. Fagone teamed up with music/lyricist John Stothers to turn her 2005 play into this warm-hearted musical in which she also plays the lead character, "Babe." A former superhero, Thunderbabe has been living the family life with her husband, Walter (Dirk Leatherman), and her daughter, Taylor (Lauren Mack), and working as the host of a TV show that gives homemaker tips like "buttons made with melon seeds."

Approaching her 50th birthday, Babe questions her life choices—for example, should she have married her superhero partner, the Golden Falcon (Grant "Buzz" Halsing) instead of her "Average Joe" husband? In the midst of bemoaning "The Curse of Middle Age" ("All your friends are diabetics; all you're craving is more cosmetics"), Babe's presidential phone rings with the ring tone of a bowlerama, and Babe learns that her arch nemesis, Toxic Passion, has just gotten out of prison and is "abducting sweet young stars." Thunderbabe must recapture Toxic Passion and thwart her diabolical designs—except, thanks to Passion's invention, the "enfeeblizer," Passion is now 20 years younger than Thunderbabe and beautiful as ever (played deliciously by slinky, blonde Heather Gordon).

Stothers has written some first-rate songs for this story, which is as sweet as it is campy. Part gumshoe soundtrack and part show tunes, Stothers has given both Thunderbabe and Passion recurring theme songs that are not only memorable but easy to rally round. Walter's song "Average Joe" ("You'll be surprised to know what an average Joe can do") and Babe's "Whispers of My Heart" are to sigh for. And many three-part numbers, such as "The Virtual Homemaker," which kicks off Babe's TV show, thrill with intricate harmonies. Director/choreographer Mike Cymanski has given Walter and Babe a great tango number in which, instead of a rose between her teeth, Babe holds a pair of black lace underwear. And Toxic Passion makes big exits (diabolical laughter) on the shoulders of her henchmen.

Playing her entirely straight, as a middle-aged woman carrying all her age-related doubts and hard-won inner confidence, Fagone creates a charming Thunderbabe. You can almost believe such a reluctant heroine might be out there feeling the bad fit of her 20-year-old persona. The show mixes plenty of comic book moments with its softie story line, such as Thunderbabe's various superhero phones stashed around the house, disguised as a trophy or a floppy stuffed falcon. And the toxic villainess says perfectly cheesy things to her victims, like the exercise maven Cookie Cool: "This is how your cookie's going to crumble," then, "Shake 'n' Bake, guys," she commands her henchmen.

Costumer Gail Farmer plied her own passion on Toxic's red and black outfit, layering black fishnets, a black bodice and black boots with red laces on top of a bright red unitard. His paunchy belly poured into parrot yellow and green skin-tights, the sight of Falcon causes Toxic to quip, "That's either the Falcon or someone who swallowed the Falcon." The story goes lofty as Toxic Passion tempts Thunderbabe with a middle-aged woman's version of the Faustian bargain and it descends to a soap opera twist, but all through, it's got the heart of a superheroine.

Thunderbabe, a BJF Creative Productions presentation in conjunction with City Lights Theater Company, plays Wednesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through June 10 at Theatre on San Pedro Square, 29 N. San Pedro St., San Jose. Tickets are $15-$25. (800.838.3006)

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