Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Dear San Francisco
Club Fugazi
Review by Patrick Thomas

The Cast
Photo by Kevin Berne
Beach Blanket Babylon, the Steve Silver creation that took Snow White on a quest (one filled with campy song parodies, a parade of giant headpieces, and ever-changing mockery of public figures) in order to find her Prince Charming, played its last show on New Year's Eve at North Beach's Club Fugazi after a 45-year run, a feat that made it the longest-running musical revue in world history. It became a must-see for residents and visitors alike, hosting 6.5 million attendees over its tenure, including luminaries such as Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, David Bowie, Liza Minnelli, and many others.

So imagine the pressure on the team at The 7 Fingers (especially creators and directors Gypsy Snider and Shana Carroll), who have taken over the space for the staging of their new show, Dear San Francisco, in the hope—one would assume—of creating another must-see show in The City.

They needn't worry, for Dear San Francisco—while being nothing like BBB—is a perfect fit for the City, as San Franciscan as cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge, Haight-Ashbury, the Castro, Chinatown, or Fisherman's Wharf.

Unlike BBB, Dear San Francisco lacks a dramatic throughline like Snow White's romantic odyssey, taking us instead on a emotional journey that celebrates the art and culture of The City through music, spoken word, shadow play, dance, and a lot of thrilling acrobatics and circus skills. If it sounds like a bit of a mish-mash, don't worry—the cast of nine are almost magical in their ability to move fluidly, not only in dance, but in facilitating the transitions between the show's varied elements.

It seems at first as if Dear San Francisco will take a linear view of The City's history, opening with archival footage of Market Street pre-1906, then transitioning to newsreels documenting the great quake—all projected on scrim that fills the proscenium prior to the appearance of the cast. Instead, the cast takes us on a poetic, emotional journey into the heart of what makes San Francisco ... San Francisco. In between acrobatic dance (in which the cast often fling each other about as if they were but feathers), aerial pole work that is equal parts dynamic and graceful—not to mention occasionally gasp-inducing—and unicycling and juggling of various sorts, the cast perform bits of poetry from San Francisco's greats, including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane de Prima, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg. They also enter a phone booth (glass removed) in a variety of creative ways, where they take on one side of a conversation, revealing the joys and heartaches of the citizens of The City. They also read brief love letters to The City from a range of notable residents, past and present, including an especially touching missive from former San Francisco Giant star Hunter Pence.

Club Fugazi has been fully renovated inside, with approximately 11 rows of seats arranged in an arc, with two aisles. A narrow bar is placed between the rows—six bars for 11 rows. There are also five rows (and three bars) on stage. Though there is currently no drinks service, the bars will come in handy as pandemic restrictions ease and food and drink will be available for purchase. The first four rows have swivel chairs of standard height, while the rear eight are elevated to barstool height, increasing visibility. Upstairs is "the tiara," the mezzanine that overlooks the main floor. I doubt there is a bad seat in the house. Because all the seats swivel, it's easy to turn to follow the action as it moves into the house, or to sit across from your theatre companions at a bar while you chat or enjoy a drink before the show. Some are shared bars with seats front and back, while others are more traditional, with seats on one side only.

In the midst of all the magic happening onstage (and often in the house)—hoop diving, stunning diabolo work from Enmeng Song (whose acrobatics teacher, Master Lu Yi, was seated in the front row on opening night), powerful teeterboard leaps from Devin Henderson and Jérémi Levesque, juggling (of both hats and balls, sometimes five at a time)—is a tender emotional arc that culminates in a powerful performance of hand-balancing by Junru Wang. Before she begins, she writes words on her arms, legs and torso: regret, loss, stagnant, alone, among others. All negative and dark. As she performs, her fellow cast members add to this temporary tattooing—until all are washed away in a beautiful moment of resolution. It's as though The City itself is the cure for all that negativity. As one of the cast says during a spoken word portion of the show, "Where would a person like me go without you, dear San Francisco?" Indeed, for this spectacular shining city welcomes all who want to create, produce, add value, and live in peace and tolerance.

Dear San Francisco is just what The City needs: a place to celebrate what makes the town so popular, a place to enjoy ourselves and to bring our out-of-town family and friends for a special night out. For Dear San Francisco is as unique and beautiful, as mysterious and thrilling as San Francisco itself.

Dear San Francisco is playing in an open-ended run at Club Fugazi, 678 Green Street, San Francisco CA. Tickets are currently on sale through the end of the year. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 6:00 p.m.; and Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2:00pm. Tickets are $35-$89, and are available at Proof of vaccination is required for entry, and masks are mandatory inside.