Thursday, September 27, 2007

A San Francisco Institution

Last night, because my cousin is in town from Rhode Island, Mom, KT, No, and another couple (for whom I have to make up nicknames) went to see Beach Blanket Babylon. This satirical musical revue centers on Snow White's search for her prince. She starts out in San Francisco and travels the world, only to find the prince back at home after all. We had the whole experience, eating at Capp's Corner before the show. Capp's, also a San Francisco institution and now closely associated with BBB, caters to the Club Fugazi crowd and the place suddenly emptied out at 730.

The first time I saw this show I was about eleven. We had a running gag in our family that comes from BBB. There used to be a part in the show when Snow White is crying about not finding her prince "anywhere" and the, well, sort of fairy godmother character looked at her and said, "Lighten up, Snow." Mom used to say this to me a lot since I tended to be rather serious about everything. It was years before I caught the pun, and I love puns.

All of the music is familiar, some of it rewritten, and there are sly and not so sly jokes in the references to pop culture and celebrities. Nancy Pelosi appears in leather pants singing "Leader of the House" with Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein singing backup. I'd expect that it woudln't be totally up to date, but Michael Jackson and N'Sync appear, and Elvis has been a constant in the show since the beginning and now he's been dead (or not) for thirty years. Barbara Streisand has again retreated to her hermitage, and the Village People are way in the past. Madonna appears, but in her late-80s pointy-breast pink Merry Widow outfit. Surprisingly, Gavin Newsom didn't show up... I was sure he would, up to the end. The most topical joke was about foot tapping in airport bathrooms, but some jokes went way back: Dick Cheney appears with a shotgun, Michael Jackson with a baby, and Tina Turner with a hugely tall wig.

And that's what I saw last night. I enjoyed the show but the references are getting way out of date. Maybe it's because of the Boomers that so many of the references are from the 1980s. I noticed that now a sign appears above each new celebrity spoof, and one of the things I used to like was recognizing everyone's BBB alter-ego (much harder when I was a kid and only read Herb Caen's column). The show's not as chauvinistic about San Francisco as it used to be, either, though

Seeing it over so many years it's interesting to notice how Snow White's character has changed. I remember reading an interview, years ago, with the woman who played SW at that time. She said that the hardest thing about playing the role wasn't doing so many shows a week, but having to speak in falsetto for 90 minutes in a row. Now Snow White busts out her Big Voice, and for me, it's like seeing someone all grown up. I imagine the change is surprising if you're seeing for the first time, but after so many years of hearing falsetto SW, I get an especial kick out of it.

Well, really, Beach Blanket Babylon is all about the hats.

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