Hats off to Beach Blanket at 40

Beach Blanket final

I’ve had the privilege of covering three Beach Blanket Babylon anniversaries for three different newspapers: the 20th for the Bay Area Reporter, the 30th for the Oakland Tribune and now the 40th for the San Francisco Chronicle. Steve Silver’s extraordinary show just keeps going and seems to get stronger and faster with time (hey, it’s the bionic musical revue!). For this anniversary, I talked to the boys in the band and some longtime and famous fans. The story links are below. But first, here’s Sunday Datebook editor Sue Adolphson’s introduction to the stories:

Chad Jones has a history with “Beach Blanket Babylon,” now celebrating its 40th anniversary. He was there for the 20th.

“Steve Silver, the show’s creator, was still around, and when I asked him what ‘Beach Blanket’ was to him, he said, ‘It’s my attention span,’ ” Jones recalls. “Silver’s short attention span, wildly creative vision and wicked sense of humor spawned what has become the longest-running musical revue in theater history.”

No mean accomplishment for a show born out of an outfit called Rent-a-Freak.

“Beach Blanket” is constantly shifting to reflect pop culture and politics, and Jones cites the current show as a prime example of the “BBB” alchemy at work.

“There’s a particularly potent political number involving Chris Christie, Mitt Romney, the Clintons, Sarah Palin, the Obamas and others singing songs from ‘Les Misèrables’ with tweaked lyrics involving the Tea Party, a tanked economy and party politics,” he says. “The effect is at once hilarious yet manages to be stirring. It’s clever and potent.”

Jo Schuman Silver, Steve’s widow and the show’s current producer, has a simple explanation for the show’s success: “It’s about having a great time.”

Beach Blanket Cover
And here are the stories:
Hats off to Beach Blanket band members
Noted fans recall BBB memories
Longtime BBB fans keep coming back for more

Beach Blanket still defying gravity

Summer of Love2
The cast of Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon celebrates the Summer of Love. Photo by Rick Markovich.

There’s no big anniversary, but there’s still something to celebrate. Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon is going on 36 years old and is brighter, fresher and funnier than ever. Members of the press were invited to come check out the show recently, and it’s easy to see why producer/co-writer Jo SchumanSilver and director/co-writer Kenny Mazlow are eager to spread the word that the country’s longest-running musical revue is in tip-top condition.

At this point, Beach Blanket is a reliable brand. You know you’ll get a few things when you head to the Club Fugazi, nestled cozily in bustling North Beach. You’ll get broad comedy (often delivered by comic broads), maniacally merry music from every era (Bill Keck is the musical director), fantastic (in every sense) costumes topped by towering hats and the precision popping of popular and political culture. As much as the show changes to accommodate current events and personalities, some things never change. Snow White looks for love and, in the end, turns into Madonna – complete with Jean-Paul Gaultier boob cones – and flies over the audience.

The current edition of Beach Blanket, in addition to some hilarious and timely skewering, finally lands on a way to make that Madonna makeover relevant. Much like the recent “The Power of Madonna” episode of Glee, Madonna is used to represent the ultimate in female empowerment. She’s a pop culture survivor who has remained relevant (relatively speaking) on her own terms and is a role model for women everywhere – at least that seems to be where her image is heading at the moment. Beach Blanket latches on to that, and when Snow White emerges as Madonna, she’s singing a re-worked version of “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, which makes the flying make even more sense. In the tradition of the show, however, the title of the song is now “Surviving Gravity” (look, ma, no chicken arms here!).
BBB Levi Johnston

Madonna is taking her place in the big pop culture pantheon, so it makes even more sense to have her marry Elvis at show’s end.

From the very top of the 90-minute show, the pop-culture references pile on. Mr. Peanut (one of Silver’s signature Beach Blanket figures) shows up carrying a giant iPad. Within minutes, the stage is hosting a flashback to the Summer of Love as Mr. Peanut morphs into a sort of Jerry Garcia figure while songs from Hair let the sunshine in. The Beatles are there, and so is a woman with a Haight-Ashbury street sign sticking out of her head.

When Snow White (played by Shawna Ferris) visits Rome, her entrance is now heralded with “Be Italian” from Nine, and for some reason, Rome leads to the first big political routine involving 1950s-style Bill and Hillary, Schwarzenegger, Nancy Pelosi, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and Barack and Michele Obama. All of these politicos return toward the end of the show for another new showpiece built on Les Miserables. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Lehman Brothers join the pity party, but the real triumph of the bit is that the Obamas come out wielding swords and hope – could the reelection campaign be starting at Club Fugazi?

One of the funniest flash bits involves Tiger Woods retreating from his golf club-wielding wife while she sings “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.” And on the way to Snow White’s happy ending, we’ll see Susan Boyle, Lady Gaga, the Jonas Brothers, Britney Spears, Beyonce (singing “Single Ladies, naturally), a fainting Marie Osmond, Harry Potter, a nude Levi Johnston (seen above right, played by Paulino Duran, photo by Rick Markovich), Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Sen. Larry Craig, Al Gore, Barbra Streisand, the gruesome Gosselins, Octomom, Amy Winehouse (unable to finish her number, poor thing), to drop a few names.
BBB Renee Lubin

Of course we also get the comic wonder of Curt Branom’s lisping, mincing King Louis and the powerhouse vocal stylings of Tammy Nelson (doing her utmost to fill the shoes – and hats—of the dearly missed Val Diamond). But the Beach Blanket MVP is Renée Lubin (seen at right as Am I Blue Lady, photo by Kevin Berne), who is in her 25th year with the show. Still in great voice and fine comic form, Lubin is the show’s star and a clear audience favorite. Her duet with Phillip Percy Williams on “I’ll Be There” is a musical highlight.

Special mention must also be made of Doug Magipong, who is celebrating 20 years in the show. He heads a Michael Jackson tribute that is completely straightforward – no jokes – as he leads the cast through the “Thriller” choreography (the whole high-energy show is choreographed by Mazlow with assistant director/choreographer Mark Reina).

The trademark Beach Blanket ending still functions like clockwork: “Shout,” “Happy Trails,” the San Francisco hat, the wedding hat, “San Francisco” and we’re done. The smiling audience files out past the T-shirts and souvenirs and into the San Francisco night. Entertainment is a valuable commodity, and Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon remains an abundant source of riches and a true San Francisco treasure.


Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon performs at 8pm Wednesdays and Thursdays, 6:30 and 9:30 pm Fridays and Saturdays; 2 and 5 pm Sundays. Audience members under age 21 welcome at Sunday matinees. Tickets range from $25 to $80. Call 415-421-4222 or visit www.beachblanketbabylon.com.

`Beach Blanket’ awards scholarships

Last week, Jo Schuman Silver, producer of Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon, awarded the annual Scholarships for the Arts from the Steve Silver Foundation and Beach Blanket Babylon, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this season.

From nine high school senior finalists — three in each category of dance, acting and voice — three were selected as recipients of a $10,000 scholarship toward their college education.

The winners:

Dance: Jessica Lester from American High School in Fremont performing “Hernando’s Hideaway” from The Pajama Game.

Acting: Patrick Varner from Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa performing a monologue from Edward Albee’s The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?

Voice: Nikola Prinz from Novato High School in Novato performing “My Man’s Gone Now” from Porgy and Bess.

Visit the Beach Blanket Babylon site for more information.

Beach Blanket Babylon is currently in the midst of an anniversary celebration that involves 35 special performances, each with a new musical number as well as a special tribute to creator Steve Silver.

Visit www.beachblanketbabylon.com for information.

Theater review: `SF Follies’

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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’

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.

Politics `Beach Blanket Babylon’ style

Leave it to the country’s longest-running musical revue –34 years and counting — to nail the political atmosphere.

Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon, always updating characters and songs to keep up with current events, has added Barack and Michelle Obama, John and Cindy McCain and Sarah Palin to its roster.

(all photos by Kevin Berne)

Senator Barack Obama, joined by his fist-bumping wife Michelle Obama, enters singing new lyrics to the 1950’s tune “Rock Around the Clock.”

“One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock Barack,
Five, six, seven o’clock, eight o’clock Barack

Nine, ten, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock Barack

It’s Barack around the clock tonight

Got the facts
It’s plain to see
Joe Biden’s the Vice President for me
We want change

He’s not messin’ around

President Obama

We like that sound

It’s Barack, Barack around the clock tonight!

Then. . .Senator John McCain, joined by his Vice President nominee Sarah Palin, strike back singing new lyrics to the 1950’s song “Johnny B. Goode.”

“I come from Arizona
Got the energy
I got a Barbie doll wife
Rich as can be
They say I’m too old
So to shake up the scene
I picked a woman vice president
A real beauty queen.

I am the Alaskan governor
But now things are wild
A mother of five children
And one who’s with child
Okay, I won a pageant
But this chick ain’t dumb
I’m full of sass
I’ll kick your ass
And might use my gun

For information about Beach Blanket Babylon, visit www.beachblanketbabylon.com

High schoolers win big `Beach Blanket’ bucks

After San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom took his foot out of his mouth (he made an inappropriate comment about gay marriage), and after former SF Mayor Willie Brown introduced a film clip, and after the Beach Blanket Babylon cast throttled a song from Wicked, the Beach Blanket Babylon Scholarship for the Arts competition got under way and did what it has been doing for six years: giving high school seniors money to pursue their passion for the arts.

Monday night’s judging panel, picking a winner from three finalists in each of three categories (dance, acting and singing), included Tracy Chapman, Harry Denton, Gordon Getty, David Gockley, Chuy Gomez, Rita Moreno, Jonathan Moscone, Carey Perloff, Don Sanchez, Tony Taccone, Jan Wahl and Brenda Way. Don Bleu served as master of ceremonies with assists from Silver’s widow, Jo Schuman Silver.

And this year’s winners are, each receiving a $10,000 scholarship, are:

In the dancing category:
CHELSEA McLAUGHLIN – Eastside College Preparatory, East Palo Alto
Chelsea, who danced to Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind,” said she plans to study dance at Fordham University at the Ailey School.

In the acting category:
SHAYLIN HOYE – Novato High School, Novato
Shaylin, who performed a monologue from Peter Shaffer’s Eqqus, said she will attend Concordia University in Irvine. “And will you pursue acting?” Bleu asked. “I might now,” she answered.

In the singing category:
SARA LEMESH – Terra Linda High School, San Rafael
Sara, who sang an aria from A Masked Ball, plans to attend Rice University and said she has been singing opera since she was 12.

Congratulations and well done!

`Beach Blanket’ selects finalists

Every year, the Steve Silver Foundation and Beach Blanket Babylon present $10,000 scholarships to three talented high school seniors from the Bay Area.

Jo Schuman Silver, producer of BBB, announced the nine finalists today, who will then go on to perform at Club Fugazi on Monday, June 9. The winners will be selected that night.

Finalists in the acting category are:
SAIRUS GRAHAM-THILLE – San Francisco School of the Arts, San Francisco
SHAYLIN HOYE – Novato High School, Novato
KEELIN WOODELL – St. Ignatius College Prep, San Francisco

In the dancing category:
CHELSEA McLAUGHLIN – Eastside College Preparatory, East Palo Alto
TAL OPPENHEIMER – Lick-Wilmerding High School, San Francisco
ERIN STAHMER – Homestead High School, Cupertino

In the singing category:
ALEXANDRA AKIN – School of the Arts, San Francisco
SARA LEMESH – Terra Linda High School, San Rafael
ERIN SUTH – Redwood Christian Junior/Senior High School, San Lorenzo

Schuman Silver said in a statement: “I’m really impressed by the quality of the performances that we’ve received and the dedication of the students to their craft. It wasn’t an easy task to narrow down the field to just nine finalists.”

The June 9 master of ceremonies for the evening is Star 101.3’s Don Bleu. The celebrity panel of judges scheduled to appear includes: San Francisco’s Mr. Nightlife Harry Denton, Composer Gordon Getty, San Francisco Opera’s General Director David Gockley, KMEL’s Chuy Gomez, Alice Radio’s Hooman, Actress Rita Moreno, California Shakespeare Theater’s Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone, American Conservatory Theater’s Artistic Director Carey Perloff, ABC7’s Don Sanchez, Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Artistic Director Tony Taccone, KRON4/KCBS Radio’s Jan Wahl and ODC/Dance’s Artistic & Executive Dance Director Brenda Way.

For information visit www.beachblanketbabylon.com.