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Beach Blanket Babylon

The San Francisco theatrical institution is celebrating its 35th anniversary with a show full of unexpected pleasures.

Ryan Rigazzi, Curt Branom, and Doug Magpiong
in Beach Blanket Babylon
(© Rick Markovich)
After just one visit to Beach Blanket Babylon, the San Francisco theatrical institution now celebrating its 35th anniversary, the reason for the show's longevity and popularity is clear: No show anywhere delivers more on the idea of expecting the unexpected.

Now written by director Kenny Mazlow and Jo Schuman Silver, the widow of the show's creator Steve Silver (who is paid homage to in a short film that kicks off the proceedings), Beach Blanket Babylon is a 95-minute ride where anything can happen and anyone can appear -- and often does, logic be damned. After a while, the fun of the show is trying to figure out what celebrity might come out for his or her 15 seconds of spoofery, usually in an elaborate wig. (Kudos to the hard-working cast of 10 for their amazingly quick costume changes).

There is a minimal plot which concerns the search of Snow White (the excellent Shawna Ferris) for her Prince Charming. Somehow in her travels, she meets (or at least mentions) Michael Phelps, Larry Craig, Richard Simmons, The Jonas Brothers, and dozens of other personalities. Not all the bits work, but there enough winners to make up for the duds.

Tthere are a few particularly noteworthy sequences for musical theater fans, including a clever spoof of Les Miserables' "One Day More," featuring a host of current political figures, and Madonna (Ferris again) doing her own singular version of Wicked's "Defying Gravity." Another memorable moment has a scantily dressed witch doctor (the superb Phillip Percy Williams) suddenly belting "If I Were A Rich Man." Amazingly, it works.

While the performers are all talented, two big-voiced performers deservedly get the show's star spots -- which include the opportunity to simply perform showstopping numbers as written. Val Diamond, who has been with the production over 30 years, gives her own vocal stylings to "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "All That Jazz," while the sublime Renee Lubin takes command of "Proud Mary" and "Ain't Misbehavin." (and also impersonates a startling array of African-American women, including Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, and Beyonce Knowles).

Not surprisingly, the show not only has a happy ending (for Snow White and a certain member of musical royalty), but a truly big finish as a pair of unbelievably elaborate headdresses are revealed. Hats off indeed to designer Alan Greenspan for these remarkable creations.


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