One of the things that makes I Want to Live! such a cult movie classic is the fact that it's based on a true story—the saga of floozy Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward), who was executed at San Quentin for the 1953 murder of a Burbank socialite. Another is the supporting cast, featuring stars like Raymond Bailey (The Beverly Hillbillies), Peter Breck (The Big Valley) and Gavin McLeod (The Mary Tyler Moore Show); the film was made in 1958, and those guys were so young they looked like their own grandkids.
But I Want to Live! as a piece of cabaret theater? Hmm—the camp factor is sure there, but the tunes will need lots of twists and turns to reflect Graham's roily path to the gas chamber.
Nellie McKay, an acclaimed London-boactor and pop vocalist, titles her act after the film, and she thinks she and her band channel Graham's spirit amid their intricate music and covers like The Beatles' “I'm So Tired” and Jimi Hendrix's “Purple Haze.” One critic said McKay's play transports the patron “between heaven and hell—or is it the other way around?” In any case, McKay's repartee includes an accoutrement that's as delightful as it is ironical—a ukulele, designed to bring out the girlish side to the Graham we never knew.
Part of the circumstantial evidence in the Graham case suggests Barb was wrongly convicted. If that's true, this show just might amount to an evening's reprieve.
It runs Sunday, July 10, at Anthology, 1337 India St. in Little Italy. $10-$39. anthologysd.com
Body Awareness: While Phyllis and Joyce tackle their impasse about the work of a photographer friend, their adult son struggles to physically express himself. Produced by Ion Theatre Company, it opens July 9 at BLK BOX @ 6th & Penn in Hillcrest. $10-$22. iontheatre.com
Peer Gynt: A bunch of smelly trolls scare a scoundrel straight—straight into the arms of his lady love. Co-produced by La Jolla Playhouse and The Kansas City Repertory Theatre, it opens July 6 at the Potiker Theatre in La Jolla. $35-$69. lajolla playhouse.org
Poster Boys: Caroline struggles to make it to the top of her field while a heartbreak resurfaces and threatens to destroy everything she has worked to build. Co-produced by Diversionary and MOXIE theaters, it opens in previews July 7 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. $20 previews, $45 opening night (July 9), $31-$33 for the remainder of the run. diversionary.org
The Woolgatherer: Rose, a shy Philly dime-store sales clerk whose life centers around reveries and daydreams, meets up with rough and witty Cliff, who's as starved for love as Rose is. Produced by Ion Theater Company, it opens July 10 at BLK BOX @ 6th & Penn in Hillcrest. $10- $22. iontheatre.com
Hershey Felder in George Gershwin Alone: Felder reprises his portrayal of George Gershwin, one of the most influential composer / musicians of the 20th century. Through July 10 at The Old Globe Theatre mainstage in Balboa Park. $66-$90. oldglobe.org
Our Town: George Gibbs and Emily Webb's everyday lives reveal humanity's deeper aspects in early-20th-century New England. Produced by Cygnet Theatre Company, it runs through July 10 at The Old Town Theatre. $34-$49. cygnettheatre.com
Shrek the Musical: Princess Fiona is rescued by a big fat ogre, not the handsome prince she had in mind. Produced by Broadway / San Diego, it runs through July 10 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown. $20 and up. broadwaysd.com
The Music Man: Conman Harold Hill comes to River City with a scam involving a boys marching band, but things don't go according to plan. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through July 24 at the Ione and Paul Harter Stage in Coronado. $22-$58. lambsplayers.org
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Sept. 4 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org
Amadeus: Composer Antonio Salieri throws up a series of roadblocks to sidetrack the career of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, his supposed archrival. Through Sept. 22 at The Old Globe Theatre's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
Much Ado about Nothing: While Beatrice and Benedick hide their infatuation beneath witty barbs, young love blossoms as Hero and Claudio race to the altar, with the wicked Don John conspiring to break up the wedding. Through Sept. 24 at The Old Globe Theatre's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
The Tempest: With the help of his spirit friend Ariel, the magician Prospero conjures up a shipwreck that restores his daughter to her rightful place in the Milan hierarchy. Through Sept. 25 at The Old Globe Theatre's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
Shotgun Wedding Anniversary: How else can a miserable 25-year marriage end but in murder? Presented by Mystery Cafe, it's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. $59.50, including dinner. mysterycafe.net