From the instant the band, dressed in all-black Blues Brothers shirts and fedoras, takes their place next to the stage at the Club Fugazi the long-lived and long-loved Beach Blanket Babylon is in full swing. The holiday show currently on-stage decks its halls with madcap satire and a chorus line of dancing Christmas trees adding merriment to anyone’s winter season. Though things are looking brighter, this year we need lots of cheer.
The comic review, which began its bravura run in 1974, was the brainchild of Steve Silver and has outlived its creator by 23 years, and counting. Like Silver, the show is affiliated with various charitable organizations, including scholarships in the arts.
The show has all the silliness and political slant of Saturday Night Live plus outrageously large hats and wigs that would have turned the 18th century French aristocracy apoplectic with envy. The closing scene offers an eight-foot wide, four-foot tall hat bearing the San Francisco landscape with all its most famous architectural features.
The story – yes, Virginia, there is a story – tells of Snow White looking for her prince. Dressed like Disney’s Snow White, except in sequins, she (Ruby Day in this incarnation) is advised by Glinda the Good (Renée Lubin in hot pink tulle and a three-foot transparent plastic crown with pink rhinestones) to travel around a bit. And travel she does: leaving San Francisco, the City of Love, for Rome and Paris.
In Roma we meet a four-man chorus of Italian chefs carrying ginormous cans of Contadina tomatoes, Chef Boyardee ravioli, Kraft Parmesan cheese and Spaghetti-Os, led by a checkered tablecloth–bloused signorina (Tammy Nelson) sporting a giant pizza-in-a-box on her head. In Paris she transforms into an Apache dancer–garbed prostitute complete with attached streetlight. The male chorus don gorgeous poodle costumes. Vladimir Putin sings “Putin on the Ritz,” with a huge box of Ritz cracker on his head. (Ritz crackers put in a second amazing performance later in the show. Clearly, they are loved by the creators.) Finally, King Louis (XIV, I presume) played by the ecstatically funny Curt Branom, appears with a sky-high pink wig, looking like the other bookend matching the hot-pink Glinda the Good.
I can’t help imagining backstage, which needs to be as tightly choreographed as the front stage. There’s no way performers can quick-change into massive wigs and goofy garbs without a team to tighten belts, apply lipstick and zip zippers. Just moving the costumes into place needs a team. I propose monitors overhead showing the backstage manoeuvers.
Even more impressive than the excessive costumes were the even wackier puns and wild segues between celebrity mimic skits. Careening through a series of breakneck-paced songs and characters, the show moves from Jeff Sessions dressed as an elf singing “My guy” to Bill Clinton singing “Do you love me?” followed by a one-liner on stimulus packages. There’s Ruth Bader Ginzburg, Star Wars storm troopers, London Breed, Miley Cyrus, The Pope in a Popemobile … oh, it goes on. The jumps and associations are silly, absurd and brilliant.
And then, of course, there’s the skit you’ve been waiting for: the von Trump family singing songs from The Sound of Music, with Melania dressed as a middle-European folk singer with a guitar, Donald in a gold smoking jacket and knee-high Russian boots, and the four von Trump kids in kitschy white uniforms. Sarah Sanders interrupts singing “I’m too good to be true/ I have some Fake News for you …”
What makes it all work are some very talented singers and actors that really give their all for 90-minutes, and make Beach Blanket Babylon a delight for any time of the year.
– Jaime Robles
Beach Blanket Babylon runs Wednesday through Friday with two shows nightly. For information and tickets, visit beachblanketbabylon.com