One person’s madman is another’s hero, a sentiment blithely celebrated in Kim Ohanneson and Marty Axelrod’s melodramatic musical based on the life and legend of Joshua A. Norton, a failed businessman who proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States in 1859. Luckily for Norton (Matthew Tucker), he lived in San Francisco, a city that embraces the bizarre and which did the same for the putative sovereign. Narrated by newsboy Smiggy (Lucas Salazar), the tale recounts how various business interests exploited Norton’s eccentric — if not insane — behavior financially while the “Emp” remained a pauper (“commerce over conscience” is a running line.) While the vocalizing and choreography, restricted by the small stage, are often subpar, director Jim Eshom and his cast’s commitment to the play’s nonsense saves the day. Kyle Clare and Christopher Goodwin are a hoot as two rat-catching dogs who reputedly tagged after Norton; Aaron Lyons is a scheming villain, replete with waxed mustache, battling Matthew Sklar’s “ethical” newsman; and Amelia Megan Gotham and Jessica Amal Rice are hookers and sisters with hearts of gold, even if they do screech like hyenas. After all, as one song lyric goes, “It helps to be just a little bit crazy.” ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 29. (818) 202-4120.

Saturdays, 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: Nov. 7. Continues through Nov. 29, 2009

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