Toga Party

It's true: There's nothing new under the sun. But if we're doomed to repeat ourselves -- and the summer reruns on Valley stages lately suggest that we most certainly are -- then we might as well make it a repeat like Skimpies, the Terry Earp musical spoof that recently launched its umpteenth revival at The Space Theatre.

Skimpies is best remembered for reuniting local punk rock star Lucy LaMode with her mentor and former bandmate, Robert X. Planet, who wrote the music and designed the costumes for the original Skimpies in 1990. The duo had played together in Killer Pussy, the '80s punk rock band whose biggest hit, "Teenage Enema Nurses in Bondage," Planet wrote for LaMode.

"Terry Earp called me last spring about reviving Skimpies," Planet recalls, "and I thought, Oh, she wants me to play the music and make a few gowns again. I'm up for that.' But instead she asked me to direct it. I wanted to say, Are you mad?' But then I thought, No. I can do this.'"

He has. The result is a revisionist Skimpies, a more lavish take on a frequently produced musical. The show was originally unveiled at the now-defunct Playwright's Workshop Theatre, with LaMode starring as Aphrodite and a young Mollie Kellogg -- who would go on to co-found Planet Earth MultiCultural Theatre -- as a befuddled nun named Arlene. Skimpies was scheduled for a three-week run, but with LaMode in the lead and better-than-decent reviews, the show ran for six months. It's since been revived several times, usually with LaMode in the lead and Planet playing the score live on his synthesizer.

This time, Planet not only plays and has rewritten much of the music, but has also designed the sets and costumes in addition to his directorial chores. The result is an uber-chic, glam rock version of Earp's already zany story about a lot of displaced Greek gods and a couple of guys in dresses.

Aphrodite (Petey Swartz), the ancient Greek goddess of love and beauty, has been evicted from her temple and has come to earth to -- what else? -- host home lingerie parties. The underthings she sells are made with threads from her magic girdle, and make the wearer appear more comely than she really is. Aphrodite's panty pyramid scheme attracts a drag queen named Sammi (Neil Cohen) who convinces his hetero brother, Philip (Greg Lutz) to host a party in drag. Philip falls in love with Skimpies client Arlene, who's an undercover nun doing research about sexuality for, well, you get the picture.

"I used to be a theater critic," Planet says, "So I know what makes audiences shuffle their feet and talk to their neighbors." He's eliminated most of the program's tedious scene changes, and has added a new character, Narcissus, who serves as a sort of mythological stage manager, sweeping up fairy-tale detritus and commenting on the action. He's also updated the script, swapping references to cassette tapes for CDs and CB radios for the Internet, and has reworked the score's rap songs, which weren't well received in the original production.

"Lucy LaMode is the Rex Harrison of rap music," Planet says. "She's been doing it longer than anyone. But the rap music got mixed reviews in the original production, because it was a relatively new music at the time, and let's face it, not everyone can rap. Those numbers didn't go over so well."

Planet has rewritten those tunes, musicalized others, and added new songs, among them a rowdy military march called "The Boy's A Broad." He's punched up the script with more special effects than most Broadway tuners, and has heaped hyper-couture on every character -- a flannel car coat over a fuzzy flapper skirt; a zippered, leopard-trimmed jumpsuit; a slutty wedding dress stuffed with bunting; and several gravity-defying hats, most of them designed for LaMode, who was originally cast in this latest revival before moving out of state.

LaMode's replacement, Petey Swartz, is a memorable Aphrodite, a deposed goddess who's equal parts Imogene Coca and Eric Blore. In fact, the entire cast appears to be channeling other infamous actors: Cohen is a dead ringer for Anna Nicole Smith, and Lutz is a Frank Gorshin doppelganger in a sequined evening gown and a scary Farrah wig. The play's prologue finds each of these celebrity impersonators trapped in a spoof of reality dating shows not unlike CBS-TV's new Cupid. Except that Skimpies did it first.

"Life should imitate art more often," Planet says. "If we could all put on beautiful clothing that made us think we're more attractive than we really are, we'd all be a lot happier."