Walter M. Mayes, Guest Reviewer
Like visiting Fisherman’s Wharf or Alcatraz, seeing Beach Blanket Babylon is one of those uniquely San Francisco experiences that many natives feel is more for the tourists—something wild but safe to do when Aunt Hannah comes to town; though I have lived in the city for nearly thirty years and entertained many out of town guests, I had never seen the show.
Of course, I knew about it—you’d have to be culturally comatose not to know of Steve Silver’s contribution to the arts in the city. Val Diamond! Snow White and Rob Lowe at the Oscars in 1989! Mr. Peanut! And those hats!!! So I had a pretty good idea what I was in for when I grabbed my friend Brett and headed to North Beach for the 9:30 show last Saturday.
Let’s just say that the show is completely reviewer-proof, and were I to spend time bemoaning the baseness of much of its humor or the fling-everything-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks-style of its staging, it would not sell one less ticket. I was shocked they offered review passes at all. Neither would complaining about uncomfortable cabaret chairs and ridiculous drink prices.
But this is all quite beside the point, because it is impossible not to have a good time at BBB! It has the hardest working cast I’ve seen in a long time, and they bring an energy that is just short of frenzied to every moment in the revue. Yes, dozens of pop culture figures of the moment make appearances (mostly limited to those who have made a lasting impact), and the jokes and song snippets fly fast and furiously (if you don’t care for one, just wait—there’ll be eight more in a minute), and the wigs and hats are the real star of the show (you may have heard about them or seen photographs, but you can’t fully appreciate them until you see the actors maneuver them on and offstage). But this amazing troupe of performers puts every bit of talent they have into selling this show, and I have no doubt that each audience is made to feel special and welcome, as if the show is being performed just for them, and that is an incredible rarity in any show.
The music relies heavily on rock standards of an earlier era, with just enough Broadway to add some flair, but there is always something more contemporary thrown into the mix, as in a mashup of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and American Idol’s “Pants on the Ground,” that was just one example of keeping the mix fresh. Of course, Elvis will never die, and neither will Tina Turner, Michael Jackson (I could watch the “Thriller” dance over and over), and Madonna, who all make wonderfully funny appearances. Every member of the cast of nine gets moments to shine, and every one of them is fabulous, though Caitlin McGinty and Ryan Rigazzi share my vote for best in show.
If you’ve seen BBB before, you know that they keep some of the best bits in forever, but that they regularly update the show and add new material. But if you haven’t seen it, you really need to—there is a reason it is a San Francisco institution, and the proof is on display every night at Club Fugazi.