story by Kayte Deioma, photos Š SSPI 2005 David Allen
In the beginning there was sand, a lifeguard and some middle aged hula dancers in a back room at the Savoy Tivoli Restaurant. Thirty-three years later the sand and lifeguards are gone, but the name stuck on the ever-changing panoply of characters and grand millinery that calls itself Beach Blanket Babylon. Within its first year in 1974, the show moved to its current digs at Club Fugazi in North Beach where it still plays to a full house for eight shows a week.
What gives Steve Silver’s little musical review such staying power? In part, it’s the quirky way the show matches itself to the character of its home town of San Francisco. But much of its longevity can also be attributed to constantly being reinvented to reflect the news of the day. Many long time fans see the show over and over again because the spoofs change from month to month, and because there are always new and bigger hats.
The premise of the show is that home-girl Snow White, played by Shawna Ferris, is looking for her prince, but having a hard time finding him in San Francisco. Enter Renee Lubin as Glinda the Good, a fairly godmother type who sends her off on a round-the-world trip in search of Mr. Right. Along the way she runs into a host of celebrity and political figures parodying your favorite songs from the last five decades. The characters are distinguishable by their gaudy costumes, huge hair and giant hats – from the Carmen Miranda pineapple extravaganza to a grand San Francisco Skyline chapeau that wears Val Diamond, rather than being worn by her.
Diamond, a 27 year veteran of the show, plays a bevy of characters from Rome to Japan and back to San Francisco, belting out classic tunes to fit the moment. In Rome she is a pizza waitress with a giant order pad and pencil on her head dancing with the Chef Boy R D Chefs singing That’s Amore. She’s a Maid in Japan, a Cowgirl and a Jewish Mother. In Paris she entreats Snow White to drop the good girl persona and get trashy as she does the cancan with a bunch of dancing trash cans.
Between appearances as Glinda the Good, Renee Lubin returns as an Italian Oprah, complete with book club on her head; Janet Jackson with a wardrobe malfunction; a blue-clad blues singer with a dynamite version of Ain’t Misbehavin’; and Tina Turner with a wig that looks like she’s wearing Cousin Itt from the Addams Family on her head.
The Monica Lewinsky character has been written out of the show, but Hilary Clinton puts in an appearance as the Statue of Liberty singing You Done Me Wrong while Bill Clinton hangs out with Paris Hilton and the Governator shows up on crutches. A big-eared G.W. Bush appears with a gun-toting Cheney and Condaleezza Rice-a-Roni-head to the tune of Annie Oakley’s You Can’t “Shoot” a Man with a Gun. The political spoof of the week is Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as a biker chick in leather toLeader of the Pack.
Some characters, like John Travolta and the Beatles hang around long enough for a song or two. Others, like Ashton and Demi on a tricycle, Tom Cruise, Katie and their alien baby, and the Brokeback Mountain cowboys tucked in giant jeans pockets, appear just long enough for a laugh.
There are probably 90 bits in 90 minutes, leading up to the ultimate makeover by the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy boys and a happily-ever-after wedding-cake-hat ending. Through all the camp and kitsch, the cast give really stellar performances. All the singers are top notch, but Diamond and Lubin really carry the show.
Club Fugazi is set up cabaret style with cocktail tables on the main floor and balcony. Wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages are available for purchase (cash only). Performances are Wednesday through Sunday. You must be 21 or older to attend any of the evening shows. People under 21 are welcome at the Sunday matinees when no alcohol is served. The theatre opens an hour before the show.