Reviewed by Judy Richter
Something old, something new but always something zany. That's part of the formula of success for the 31-year-old "Beach Blanket Babylon," America's longest-running musical revue and as much a San Francisco institution as Fisherman's Wharf and the cable cars. Created by the late Steve Silver and produced by his widow, Jo Schuman Silver, "Beach Blanket Babylon" is famous for its exaggerated wigs and especially for its creative hats, which can more aptly be described as head pieces that become part of the scenery.
Directed and choreographed by Kenny Mazlow, who also has been performing in the show since 1988, the 90-minute show whizzes by with some scenes lasting only long enough to be a sight gag. He also co-writes the show with Silver, often inserting bits from that morning's newspaper headlines. At the Oct. 30 matinee, for example, the name of Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, was mentioned only two days after he had been indicted by a federal grand jury investigating the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent.
Using a cast of five men and five women, the show follows the same basic plot: Snow White has had no luck searching for her prince in San Francisco, so with the help of Glinda, the good witch, she sets off on a world trip that takes her to Rome, Paris and Yokohama with numerous detours. Finally, she undergoes a makeover, returns to San Francisco and marries the man of her dreams. On her trip, she encounters such characters as Mr. Peanut, who now has an iPod; Hillary Clinton dressed as the Statue of Liberty and former President Bill Clinton singing "My Cheating Heart" and touting his autobiography and his heart bypass operation. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger makes a brief appearance as the Terminator and decries girlie men. Other celebrities -- many with huge wigs -- include Paris Hilton, John Travolta, Prince, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson (played by a white man with a bandage on his nose), an overweight Kristie Alley, Santana, Donald Trump, Harry Potter, Martha Stewart, the Beatles, Diana Ross, Barry Bonds, Barbra Streisand, the Village People, Tina Turner, President Bush, Condaleeza Rice and the list goes on.
Snow White also meets dancing poodles singing "Run Around Sue"; King Louis of France; four dancing rabbis with wine bottles of their heads; a Jewish mother pushing a Costco shopping cart and wearing a gold lamˆ© dress and fuzzy pink house slippers; a witch doctor; Chiquita Banana with a huge pineapple headdress; a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. repairman singing "Hello, Darkness," a reference to California's energy crisis of a couple years ago; and the men of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," who help Snow White with her makeover.
As usual, the show ends with "Happy Trails," "San Francisco" and a towering San Francisco skyline hat, complete with the Ferry Building, Transamerica Pyramid, Victorian houses, cable cars and other landmarks. This hat has been updated with the monolithic tower of the new DeYoung Museum of Art, which had just opened in Golden Gate Park earlier in the month.
Because the show is so popular with tourists -- it's a must-see for out-of-town visitors -- strictly San Francisco references are limited to those with national recognition, such as a mention of Mayor Gavin Newsom's short-lived effort to allow gay marriage. The humor relies on cleverness rather than rauchiness, with just enough hints at naughtiness to be amusing but not offensive. The naughtiness at the reviewed show seemed to be toned down even more than usual, perhaps because Sunday matinees are the only shows that are open to people under 21. The show also didn't have some of the zip I've seen in the past, perhaps because several of the mainstays, including Mazlow, 20-year veteran Renˆ©e Lubin and 26-year veteran Val Diamond -- who has become a San Francisco icon herself -- weren't in that performance. Nevertheless, the 10 performers, who included some understudies, are talented, personable singers and dancers.
It's a sure bet that all the regulars were scheduled for the show on Nov. 6, when England's Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, planned to see it during their visit to the United States. It's also a sure bet that Silver and Mazlow will insert scenes and hats especially for the royal visitors. It couldn't happen any other way and still be the inimitable "Beach Blanket Babylon."