Regional Reviews: San Francisco
After Twenty Nine Years Steve Silver's Beach Blanket Babylon
Also see Richard's review of A Night with Dame Edna
Steve Silver's Beach Blanket Babylon is San Francisco's, and the nation's, longest running hit musical. The late Mr. Silvers premiered the show in June 1974, and it has been seen by over four million persons. The extravagant revue passed Ziegfeld Follies' record when it gave its 9,250 performance on June 7, 1998. The San Francisco "institution" shows no signs of slowing down, and it is constantly being updated with caricatures of the latest people in the news, making it as fresh as the day it first premiered.
Beach Blanket Babylon traveled to Las Vegas where it was a big hit for months, and it played in London before Queen Elizabeth. Celebrities, politicians, tourists, and suburban housewives have flocked to the Club Fugazi to see this extravaganza; even San Franciscans make regular trips back to the club to see the updates. Variety said "Silver's sparkling musical review is a camp extravaganza that probably has no equal in the United States." How true that is, since this show is a non-stop concoction of pop tunes, visual puns and surreal hats.
Steve Silver's Beach Blanket Babylon has had sold out performances almost every night since it started nearly 29 years ago. On a recent rainy Wednesday night, the 389 seat theater was full of enthusiastic patrons. The fast-paced 90 minute musical has a first rate eleven person ensemble who wear the most outlandish costumes and headgear that has ever been seen on any stage. Their costumes beat even those worn by the cast of When Pigs Fly.
The plot of the show (if you want to call it a plot) is very simple . Naive Snow White (Lauren White) is looking for her prince while carrying a suitcase with a sign reading "A Prince or Bust" with her website address. She is confronted by Glinda the Good Witch (Renee Lubin) who is a cotton candy vision of a fairy godmother. She sends Snow to Rome, Paris, Yokohama and South America to search for her Prince Charming. Along the way, our inexperienced heroine finds an onslaught of musical lampoons of celebrities including Hilary Clinton dressed in a Statue of Liberty costume, Bill Clinton singing "Great Balls of Fire" to Monica, the Bushes with the two daughters dressed as bushes (one holds a bottle of booze in her hands), Michael Jackson with a little boy doll on his back, Britney Spears, Martha Stewart, Tina Turner, ex-Governor Ventura, Oprah with 3 feet of books on her head, a bunch of prancing French Poodles, Bjork (in her famous Oscar swan dress), Prince, Puff Daddy with Jennifer Lopez and The Beatles, just to name a few. We see a matzo box dancing to the music of "Macho Man" (called "Matzo Man" in the show) and an Oil of Olay Spanish count. There is also a Carmen Miranda character sporting several feet of pineapple.
Val Diamond, who has been with the show for 21 years, plays a gaggle of roles, including a French floozy with a complete lamppost in her hair, an Italian piazza waitress with a humongous pizza on her tall beehive, a "maid in Japan" looking like a fugitive from The Mikado, an "oy vey" mama who could be in Hairspray and a salty cowgirl - she can belt out a song with the best of them, and in a quiet mood she sings a boffo rendition of Dusty Springfield's classic "Anyone Who Had a Heart."
Renee Lubin, who has been with the company for 14 years, brings down the house as Tina Turner singing "Proud Mary." She also wears a three foot tall shag wig. Her big "Ain't Misbehavin'" number is a tour de force of high energy blues.
Outstanding is Ryan Rigazzi, who plays the fey King Louis all dressed up in a regal pink 18th century costume and wearing a U-shaped hairdo that is three feet high. This is a goony treasure of a performance with his infectious smile and tittering laugh.
One of most outstanding performances is Ellyn March's parody of Barbra Streisand singing "People (Who Needs People?)" This is one of the best comic renditions of the singer that I have ever seen. Lauren White makes a perfect Snow White with her Betty Boop voice. Christa Noelle Hunter plays various roles, but she is exceptional in her black and white "dots" costume singing "Fever" with new lyrics to a Bill Gates lookalike. Doug Magpiong is first rate in various roles in the singing and dancing department, and his impression of Elvis is right on the mark. The male chorus is wonderful, especially when they sing "Yokohama" to the melody of "Oklahoma." It is hilarious.
The extravaganza has the wildest costumes and the most fantastical hats and hairdos, especially at the end when Ms. Diamond comes out with a massive headgear that contains a caricature of the entire city of San Francisco which lights up, and a cable car goes up and down a hill. You have to see that to believe it.
Steve Silver's Beach Blanket Babylon is clever, brash, bouncy, hip, and eclectic and it is non stop fun. This show connects with people and makes them happy. I not only had a ball but I found it more than holds its own as an unyielding theatre piece. The revue runs at the Club Fugazi, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 pm and 10 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm and 7 pm. Persons under 21 are not admitted to evening performances; however, minors are welcome at Sunday matinees. Tickets can be obtained by calling 415-21-4222 or going online at wwwticketweb.com.