Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Wild and Cheeky Production of Pearls Over Shanghai

Also see Richard's review of As You Like It

Flynn Whitmeyer and Earl Paus
The Cockettes are back with their psychedelic farce Pearls Over Shanghai, bigger and more glitzy than ever at the intimate Hypnodrome Theatre. The show caused a sensation back in 1970 at the Palace Theatre in San Francisco. The city adored them, but when it played in New York, it was dismissed as just too over the top for New Yorkers. This show is reminiscent of the Theatre of Ridiculous tradition of Charles Ludlam and Charles Busch.

Pearls Over Shanghai is a comic mock-operetta about white slavery, opium dens and miscegenation set in the flamboyant world of Shanghai in 1937. The fast-paced musical vividly directed by Russell Blackwood is filled with singing sailors, hilarious whores, handmaidens and criminals seething with a mix of foreign aristocrats, opium addicts and racketeering slave-trade czars. It features exciting drags, plenty of male frontal nudity, and silly parodies of Broadway musicals of the 1930s. There are stunning outlandish costumes by Tina Sogliuzzo, Dwight Overton, Flynn DeMarco, Tahara and Billy Bowers and an inspired Busby Berkeley style of choreography by Noel Haydon and Bonni Suval.

Scrumbly Koldewyn has written ballads, torch songs, opera, patter and pop songs with a '30s feel along with clever lyrics by Link Martin and Pam Tent. He also handles the musical direction on piano and becomes part of the story as The Amah in one number called "Make Haste to Live" beautiful sung by Earl Paus as Chop Chop and Koldewyn dressed like someone in an early 1930s Universal "oriental film." Many of the numbers are hilarious, such as "Apples and Won Ton," "Jaded Hussy," "Endless Masturbation Blues" and "We're Saying Fu to You."

The silly plot is based on John Colton's scandalous 1926 play of the same name which was later turned into a feverishly decadent art deco film by legendary director Joseph von Sternberg. The mostly inconsequential plot combines characters from sailors and whores to a trio of American girl singers and a Russian high class whore who meet up in the exotic city of Shanghai.

The cast of 24 charms the audience and also makes them laugh at their shenanigans. Different performers appear on different evenings. Birdie-Bob Watt, who took over temporarily for the ailing Russell Blackwood, is a hoot as Mother Fu. He has a vibrant voice singing "Cruising." Equally funny is Diogo Zavadzki as the unhappy Lili Frustrata. His mincing manner and semi-operatic vocalizing and absurd costume are side-splitting. Noah Haydon is stunningly sensuous as the high-class whore Petrushka. He stunningly sings Marlene Dietrich style "Jaded Lady" and "I Can't Stop Wondering." Emma Peel, Cosmo Tini and Zelda Koznofski play the virgin American girl singers. They are harmoniously energizing singing Andrew Sisters style "Come and Get It" and "We're Saying Fu to You." Rumi Missabu as Madam Gin Sling, James Toczyl as Shangri La, Annie Larson as Mrs. Goldberg, Flynn Witmeyer as WuWu and Steve Satyricon as Captain Eddy have good, strong voices. Rounding out the great campy cast playing whores, handmaidens and angels are Bruna Palmeiro, Dwight Overton, Roxanne RedMeat and Hayley Nystrom along with Chris Ogling nicely portraying Shepak Chopra.

Pearls Over Shanghai plays at The Hypnodrome, 575 Tenth Street, San Francisco though July 26th, 2014. Tickets can be purchased through or 800-838-3006.

Photo: David Wilson

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

Privacy Policy