From Carnal San Francisco ::

I recently got to see a preview of the revival of the Cockette’s show “Pearls Over Shanghai.” It’s an original musical written by Cockette Scrumbly Koldewyn, a musical genius born in the wrong era. His tastes and style come directly from show tunes of the early to mid 20th century (1920’s to 1950’s). A precious gem of a show, “Pearls Over Shanghai” has not been performed since 1970. It re-opens this weekend at the Hypnodrome, 575 Tenth Street in San Francisco, and runs Friday, June 5, 2009 at 8:00pm through Saturday, June 27, 2009 at 11:00pm.

“This campy musical takes place in an imaginary “Shanghai” of the 1930s, & features a terrific cast, including sassy newcomers, hot sailor boys, & even some original members of the legendary Cockettes.” The cast is a mix of some showbiz pros and pretty amateurs, giving it that fun home-made appeal, but the pros are really pros – with some dynamic voices and strong stage presence. And for you smut hounds wondering why I am writing a theater review, you’ll be pleased to note “adult film actor” Michael Soldier has an important role in the show as a Chinese gangster, wearing a classic pinstriped Zoot Suit.

I won’t give away the surprise, but there is a campy special effect during the song about opium that was absolutely brilliant. I still can’t figure out how they did it either!

The pre-show announcements warn the audience that it takes place in an era before “political correctness” because it contains a lot of old Hollywood Charlie Chan stereotypes. It’s a period piece within a period piece. That combined with the strong sexual overtones and drug references will probably prevent it from competing with “Beach Blanket Babylon” for the tourist dollar. It should be noted that Cockettes shows happened several years before “Beach Blanket” debuted in 1975, but the inspiration is obvious.

“Beach Blanket,” created by Steve Silver, a gay man who remained closeted to the grave, took a different direction, keeping the show squeaky clean and never acknowledging it was a “drag” show. The Cockettes’ drug-fueled shows were never apologetic about drag, gender-bending, nudity, smut, or upfront gay camp. Silver’s widow (aka his beard), Jo Schuman Silver, is still making millions by keeping “Beach Blanket” in the closet after having made a Command Performance before Queen Elizabeth and even after making the Oscars’ most disastrous opening segment ever. In contrast, the Cockettes had to wait 40 years to bring their show to a 50-seat theater in a warehouse South of Market.

If you are in San Francisco this month, go see “Pearls Over Shanghai” and show your support for wacky gay camp at its most twisted.


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