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‘Pigs’ fly but don’t quite land at NCTC

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David Bicha has some fun moments in “When Pigs Fly.” (Courtesy Lois Tema)

Porcine aviation is the current goal at New Conservatory Theatre Center, and while “When Pigs Fly” lives up to its titular aspirations in a roundabout way, the production itself feels overly earthbound.

The biggest problem is that even with some smart song updates by lyricist Mark Waldrop — the sole surviving member of the original creative troika that included the Howard Crabtree of the title and composer Dick Gallagher — the show feels extremely dated.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with a “Gay is OK!” message. It’s just that in today’s metro centers like San Francisco and New York, the likely response is “Yes, and?” This may explain why a planned Off-Broadway revival collapsed under the weight of its Bob Mackie costumes when funding ran dry just weeks short of opening last fall.

If the message lacks urgency, then the delivery has to carry things forward, and the results at NCTC are decidedly uneven.

The cast of five runs the skillset gamut with J. Conrad Frank (as Crabtree) and David Bicha showing their pro credits honed by years of performing in indie theater, cabaret and drag productions.

It’s pretty impossible to resist Frank’s boyish joie de vivre, fey grace and overall gosh-golly determination to get his bacon airborne.

Bicha counters him with arch “Don’t you know who I was?” camp as a diva-in-her-own-mind queen reduced to amateur theatricals. Both go right to the edge but never over it and a scene near the end with Bicha in a bright-pink latex pig drag replete with snout and Frank as yet another “Dream Curly” from “Oklahoma!” incarnation is both funny and tender.

Ryan Vásquez does well with his literal torch song trilogy — a highlight of the original 1996 edition, updated here to feature homophobes du jour — and the still poignant “Laughing Matters,” and adds a sassy, saucy edge to his character’s stage aspirations.

Philippe Gosselin and Chris Plank fare less well. The former brings the necessary beefcake to many sight gags and the latter milks plus-size yucks in “Bigger is Better,” but their soft-shoe of “Light in the Loafers” and other efforts feel woefully underserved.

A lot of the production feels tentative when it really needs that “Hey, let’s put on a show!” bravado.

Follow-your-dream tales, particularly with a stage setting, also need that tipping point where everything that has been going horribly wrong suddenly and inexplicably goes right. It’s a distinction that needs to be a lot stronger “When Pigs Fly.”

REVIEW
When Pigs Fly
Presented by New Conservatory Theatre Center
Where: Decker Theatre, 25 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays–Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes June 10
Tickets: $25 to $60
Contact: (415) 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org

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