Stage Door: Pants on Fire's Metamorphoses, Baby Wants Candy

01/10/2011 03:56 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The gods of Roman mythology had twin obsessions: love and lust. For women, attracting their attention was a dangerous business. Chased by Apollo, Daphne prays for help and is transformed into a tree. To hide his affair with Io, Jupiter zaps the girl into a cow. In fact, sex-crazed Jupiter was willing to make love in any form -- including impregnating Danae in the guise of a wave. But as the inventive Pants on Fire's Metamorphosis at The Flea Theater reveals, heroes and monsters are an ongoing saga.

To prove it, the show sets Ovid's Metamorphosis in 1940s Britain -- and the result is a smart, clever production.

Most of us have heard of Cupid, Andromeda and the slaying of Medusa, but it ups the ante when staged during wartime, which intensifies the dark underpinning of these classic tales. The dramatic retelling of Echo and Icarus' woes, among others, is poignant. Others are mined for their dramatic impact. The catch is the Forties' artistic sensibility; the distinctly British musical and visual touches add a hugely entertaining and meaningful element. The stories of power, jealousy, desire, written in ancient times, have a distinctly modern ring.

The multimedia production, which employs film and puppetry, posits Narcissus as a matinee idol, and turns Atlas into a Gestapo agent. The novelty works beautifully, thanks to a talented cast -- Jo Dockerty, Mabel Jones, Tom McCall, Jonathan Davenport, Eloise Secker, Hannah Pierce and Alex Packer -- the stylish direction of Peter Bramley and original songs by Lucy Egger.

Comic originality is the hallmark of Baby Wants Candy, which is currently playing at the SoHo Playhouse. The improvised 60-minute musical, billed as "opening and closing on the same night," is complete with a terrific four-person band. The show, which plays in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, says it creates plots and songs on the spot. Audiences shout out suggestions for that night's entertainment -- and the first idea heard is up and running within seconds.

It's a wild premise and lots of fun. The show I saw revolved around Cheer's Kirstie Alley -- and the six-person troupe, three men, three women -- sent up Scientology, Bebe Neuwirth, weight and stardom. Silly, wild and occasionally inspired, Baby Wants Candy is a reminder of how scary and amazing improvisation can be.