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John Brand (center) as Mephistopheles sits surrounded by the seven deadly sins. From left: Mary Lou Hymel (Envy); Kathy Feinstein (Pride); Joe Libby (Sloth); Travis McElroy (Anger); Sharon Beales (Gluttony); Joe Morgan (Greed); and Louisette Zurita (Lust) (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Acerbic theater critic Dorothy Parker was famous for asking "What fresh hell is this?" Local audiences often have the same jaded outlook on original work. But if we are to have a viable artistic community we have to create, not just revive, works of theater. And the ambitious, full-length, original musical now playing at the Alamo Street Theatre shows that some new work is hellish by design, and fresh indeed.

Life is Hell! is an old-fashioned musical comedy with book, music, and lyrics (not to mention direction, choreography, set and costume design, and set painting) by local playwright Mary E. Bowlin-Brand. Set in the late 1930s, it tells a version of the Faust story (complete with deus ex telephona) from the perspective of the Devil and her (yes, her) Demons, personified

Through Nov. 1
6-8pm Dinner
8pm show Fri & Sat
Alamo Street Theatre
1150 S. Alamo
onstage as the Seven Deadly Sins (particularly notable were Louisette Zurita's can't-take-your-eyes-or-ears-off-her Lust, and Joe Libby as a rumply, endearing Sloth in a Hawaiian shirt). Mephistopheles, the main demon (portrayed with brio and a great baritone by John Brand) runs the Office of Acquisitions in Hell; they're behind on their quotas and, well, comedy ensues.

The real story, though, is the music. The 18 original songs - arranged into a seamless period tapestry of ragtime, Charleston, swing, and blues styles by Roger Underwood - would sound completely credible on a vintage Broadway soundtrack recording. The perhaps over-worked Bowlin-Brand's writing achievement is impressive enough to have been showcased revue-style, without the distraction of production elements not of the same quality. This is a show that, with some minimal tightening, deserves re-staging with the budget and space to do justice to its Busby Berkeley feel. Bowlin-Brand says this is the first of her musicals to be arranged and staged. Here's hoping we haven't heard the last of them. •

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