Theater review: `SF Follies’

Apr 17

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The cast of John Bisceglie’s SF Follies hustles through the ’70s ABBA style. The hit revue continues through April 26 at The Actors Theatre. The show may return in a new-and-improved form in the near future. Photo by Ryan Montgomery

Local laughs, groovy tunes highlight Bisceglie’s `SF Follies’
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At first glance, John Bisceglie’s SF Follies, a zany musical revue about all things San Francisco, bears more than a passing resemblance to Beach Blanket Babylon, Steve Silver’s long-running Valentine to the City by the Bay.

But on closer inspection, Bisceglie’s show really is its own thing. Like Beach Blanket, it interpolates popular songs, speedy jokes, wild costumes and more San Francisco references than you can shake a cable car at.

But SF Follies is more interested in San Francisco history. While Snow White searches the world for love in Beach Blanket, Bisceglie and co-writer Jason Tarshis actually start at the very beginning (a very good place to start) with Junipero Serra and the Ohlone Indians. And to give you an idea of the show’s style, The Sound of Music, Neil Diamond’s The Jazz Singer and the theme from “The Brady Bunch” are all invoked to tell the story of Spanish missionaries bringing terrible diseases to the Native Americans and essentially causing genocide.

Bisceglie, who wrote the show, directed it, produced it and designed the set and costumes, somehow crams 12 performers on the small stage at The Actors Theatre, and those actors zip through more than 200 years of history in an enjoyable 90 minutes full of, as the opening song puts it, “glitz and shtick sure to entertain you.”

From the glory days of the Gold Rush and the Barbary Coast to the 1906 earthquake (to the tunes of “I Feel the Earth Move” and “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty,” “Disco Inferno” and “The Morning After”), the cast has a grand time lampooning San Francisco history. During the 1950s, black-clad Beatniks thrust and grind to Kayvon Kodrestani’s choreography set to “Rich Man’s Frug” from Sweet Charity and goes full on hippie for the 1960s in “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” from Hair.

The really funny stuff comes in the second half of the show when Mayor Gavin Newsom (played with grinning slickness by the sweet-voiced Brett Hammon) conducts a tour of the city and then sings a funny version of “Popular” from Wicked.

Invoking Gilbert and Sullivan, Hairspray, ABBA, Wonder Woman, The Little Mermaid, Evita and a whole lot more, the SF Follies is fast paced and never less than entertaining. The show’s funniest bit pays homage to the San Francisco Ballet and the San Francisco Zoo simultaneously.

SF Follies is coming to the end of its extended run, but Bisceglie says the show will likely return sometime in the near future. That’s encouraging because Bisceglie is clearly an old-fashioned show man, a Ziegfeld for the new millennium, and it will be very interesting to see what this impresario comes up with next.

 

Bisceglie’s SF Follies continues through April 26 at The Actors Theatre, 855 Bush St., San Francisco. Tickets are $35-$40. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.sffollies.com for information.

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