Beach Blanket Babylon - San Francisco's Biggest
Mark Glass is a journalist trapped in a lawyer's body, balancing his
writing and broadcasting on travel, entertainment and professional sports.
||I've made so many trips to San Francisco though the years, I feel like an
aficionado, rather than a tourist by now. We all know about the usual landmarks - The
Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, Coit Tower and the Transamerica Building, with its
distinctive pinnacle. Not to mention the city's well-deserved reputation as the culinary
capital of the country (Rice-a-Roni, notwithstanding).
But there's one theatrical offering that is every bit as special
and uniquely part of the topography - the long-running musical comedy revue Beach
Blanket Babylon. For twenty-four years, this San Francisco confection has been drawing
crowds of locals and tourists, who rejoice in this celebration of the city's special
The plot never changes. Snow White, with the help of a
larger-than-life fairy godmother, searches the world for her Prince Charming, only to find
- as did Dorothy from Kansas - that good ol' San Fran has everything a girl could want.
Into this thin premise has flowed a never-ending succession of
comical songs and outrageously elaborate costumes that not only delight the crowds, but
have made their way to the Smithsonian. The hats, particularly, are the stars, as much as
the talented performers these monstrous creations all but dwarf.
Scenes change quickly as the energetic cast assumes numerous roles
and performs a wide variety of blackouts or song-and-dance numbers. In the early years, a
debonaire, dancing Mr. Peanut (about the size of pro baseball mascots) acted as emcee (or,
perhaps, ringmaster) of these hilarious proceedings. More recently, they handle their
transitions without him.
Cast members come and go, but Val Diamond has locked in the fairy
godmother job for eighteen years. This big woman, with bigger eyes and a yet bigger voice
has plenty of ways to get laughs, and can stop the show with a serious number, too.
Longtimer Renee Lubin, whose Tina Turner impression packs all the punch of the original,
does the same.
But what keeps customers like me coming back every couple of
years, or so, is the constant revision of the script, replete with current political and
social references. Theres a few regional jokes, since there are always more locals
in the house, but even as a Midwesterner who drops by when he can, I never feel I'm
missing anything. No matter who is in the White House, or the news, someone in the
ensemble cast will do a song or other send-up at his expense.
The tunes are standards and rock 'n roll numbers, with lyrics
altered for comedy. Or sometimes the actual words will get twisted for laughs by the
staging context. The result is an evening that is accessible to every segment of the
For most of its life, Beach Blanket has held court in Club
Fugazzi, a cabaret style theater, with drink and snack service before and during the show.
Located in the North Beach district, it's a short walk from a wealth of fabulous
restaurants and the strip of more famous night clubs on Broadway. Although Fugazzi is
limited to patrons over 21 because of the liquor service, there's nothing bluer than
risque-level in the show. It's far cleaner than pay-cable comedy specials, and a lot
Even after all the laughs and the visual delights of the costumes
- especially the famous skyline hat in the finale - there's one more treat. The closing
song is always "San Francisco, Open your golden gates...", with the crowd
raucously and joyfully joining in. From the first time I heard that two-story hall
resounding with its denizens' pride in where they dwell, I was hooked for life on the show
and the city. I've never felt that in St. Louis (except after Game 7 of our 1982 World
Series victory), or anywhere else.
Whenever I get the chance to visit the Bay Area, Beach Blanket
Babylon is a priority. This summer was my seventh, or so, viewing. I continue to
delight in the now-familiar elements, while marveling at the skillful stir-in of updates.
The other must on these occasions is the unparalleled creme brulee at Hayes Street
Grill... but that's another story.
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Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Mark Glass)
Mark Glass is a
Mark Glass is a freelance writer and broadcaster, based in St. Louis, covering travel, entertainment and professional sports for his readers
and listeners. Mark was travel editor for "St. Louis Connoisseur", and
now have that role for "Life in the Midwest", based in Indianapolis.
For the last fifteen years, he's written and broadcast features on
travel, entertainment and sports, while maintaining his law practice in the St. Louis
area. (More about this writer.)