San Francisco Theater Review: BEACH BLANKET BABYLON (Club Fagazi)

by Tony Frankel on November 9, 2012

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Billed as the world’s longest running musical revue, Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon is a flamboyant, frivolous, and frothy burlesque that takes a jab at popular culture with super-talented performers as oversized caricatures, many of whom wear Babylon’s signature oversized headdresses and fabulously garish costumes. There is an ever-changing line-up of characters, but the premise remains the same: With the assistance of a tour guide, Snow White travels the world looking for her Prince; along the way, she meets pop-culture icons and other characters who, by executing spoofs of popular songs, comment on everything from San Francisco-related topics (the Giants’ recent World Series victory) to Oprah to Chick-fil-A restaurants.

For San Franciscans, the show is a sacred cow, so it’s silly to critique the fact that it’s far from biting social commentary—the biggest laughs result from pure recognition factor (although I have to admit that Curt Branom’s drag queen send-up of Michelle Bachmann is a stitch as he makes his eyes wider than a fish lying on a beach). The writing isn’t particularly clever, and the song’s lyrics are cluttered, but that’s not what this production is about. This well-oiled machine is an institution of screwball merriment, especially for tourists and for locals who want to bring mom to a show – it gives patrons the opportunity to laugh at all of the things the media takes so seriously, from politics to Tom Cruise’s sexuality.

Any musical revue, including Forbidden Broadway, can get wearisome by the repetitive spoofing of it all, no matter how clever—that’s the nature of the beast. But if you ask for more in the way of piercing parody and truly hysterical sketches with Babylon, you may be disappointed that the show isn’t very insightful. But as with any sacred cow, this spectacular is exempt from criticism or questioning: for example, when a French street lamp suddenly starts singing the ballad, “How Do I Live (Without You),” it feels out-of-place and there’s little recognition factor (I’m pretty sure it’s a LeAnn Rimes cover), but the actress sings the merde out of it, so who cares if the moment makes sense or not? In fact, all of the performers are talented to the hilt, and the zany get-ups and wigs are nothing less than inspired: The wig for Whoopi Goldberg looks like a cross between an octopus and a tarantula, and Barbra Streisand’s notoriously long fingernails are attached to flesh-colored gloves. The innovation, artistry, and professionalism is a triumph. I just needed a good dose of sophistication to break up the monotony from all of the silliness.

There is a holiday show, or Seasonal Extravaganza, opening on November 14. It will feature a chorus line of tap dancing Christmas trees, special parodies of traditional Christmas carols, and, naturally, a gigantic Yuletide hat.

photos by Rick Markovich

Beach Blanket Babylon
Club Fugazi in North Beach
Seasonal Extravaganza plays November 14 – December 31, 2012
regular show continues with open run
for tickets, call 415-421-4817 or visit

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