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by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times

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Hell in a Handbag Productions' notorious Lady X is once again plying her trade at Mary's Attic. But unlike in 2010, the mob-battling Lady X and her "hostess" cohorts are singing and dancing in a world-premiere musical adaptation.

"When we originally did it seven years ago, we all thought this would be a great musical," said David Cerda, the artistic director of Handbag Productions and a co-author/supporting star of Lady X—A Musical. "It's film noir and based upon a Bette Davis movie from 1937 called Marked Woman, so it's right up our alley."

Lady X also helped rescue Handbag Productions' 15th-anniversary season. Originally the famed Chicago drag camp comedy company announced a musical parody version of the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls called Valley! But a very threatening letter from 20th Century Fox put a stop to Valley!, even though Cerda points out that another California drag queen spoof is featured in DVD extras for the original film.

"It would cost about $20,000 to $30,000 if it were to go to court just to prove that it was a true parody," Cerda said. "It's not feasible for a small company like us. It would wipe us out for the year."

With only about a month and a half to fill the vacated musical spot, Cerda and his composing collaborator, Scott Lamberty went to work revamping Lady X. Cerda stole lines from the original script as inspiration for songs like "The Girls at my Joint," "We Do Science" and "Bad Betty."

"I'm used to working under pressure," said Cerda, adding that the inspiration came easy because he loves that Hollywood era filled with "dames, fast-talking guys and con artists."

Cerda was full of praise for Lady X co-directors Steve Love and Tommy Bullington. He was also pleased to note that a few 2010 Lady X cast members are back like Elizabeth Lesinski and Ed Jones as "the world's oldest prostitute."

"We had such a good time doing that show," Cerda said. "It was great to revisit it."

The official press opening of Lady X—A Musical is at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 28, at Mary's Attic, 5400 N. Clark St. Performances continue through Saturday, June 10, at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays with 6 p.m. shows on Sundays ( no shows May 7 or June 4 ). Tickets are $26-$30 with $38 VIP tickets with cocktail; call 800-838-3006 or visit .

Steam heat

Hunky comedy husbands Andy Eninger and John Loos are planning a move to Los Angeles this summer. But with the Annoyance Theatre's revised revival of Steamworks: The Musical, these two veterans of The Second City, GayCo and Skinprov are getting one final Chicago send-off.

"It's funny because my husband John and I adored the first process of creating the show and performing in it," said Eninger about the 2011 original. "We were like, 'God, if there's one show we wish we could do before we go, it's Steamworks.' And then strangely it came to pass."

Eninger says it makes perfect sense to revive Steamworks now, especially with the Annoyance Theatre's recent move from Uptown to Boystown. And keen observers will note that the show now officially carries the actual name and logo of the famed North Halsted bathhouse rather than its previous "Steamwerkz" moniker.

"[The management of Steamworks was] only on board a couple of weeks before opening, but by then all of the press and marketing had already gone out," Eninger said. "We made the safe choice then, and this time they were on board from the very beginning since they knew what they were getting into."

As before, parallels can be drawn between the bizarre bathhouse happenings in Steamworks and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. But this time around there have been changes and updates to respond to the times.

Steamworks revival director Michael Gifford said the Annoyance made efforts to attract a more diverse cast for 2017—including a woman in the ensemble. There's also five new song devised by the cast, including one about the HIV-prevention drug PrEP.

"We've really tried to make this show as uplifting and community-based as possible," said Gifford, noting that Howard Brown Health Center donated lots of condoms and the nearby novelty shop Taboo Taboo provided other props.

Other changes for 2017 sees Loos switching from the hayseed ingénue hero Al to the conceited hunk Stephen Stephan. Meanwhile Eninger said he has come up for a new reason for his notably altered protrusion as the older bathhouse denizen Chester.

"The prop perhaps is if nothing bigger this time around," laughed Eninger, noting that his parents have already caught a preview performance and approved of the show's many changes.

Both Gifford and Eninger also noted that some of the potentially hurtful language has been tempered regarding gay female friends and elderly guys.

"If it's going to be a tour of different architypes in Boystown and amongst the queer Chicago community, we wanted it to be much more empowering," Gifford said. "But I mean, the whole show is silly. It's a musical set in a bathhouse after all."

The official press opening of Steamworks: The Musical is 8 p.m. Friday, April 28, at the Annoyance Theatre, 851 Belmont Ave. Performances continue at 8 p.m. Fridays through June 16. Tickets are $20 and $15 for students; call 773-697-9693 or visit .

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