Hot Coco spices up Golden Girls in 18th year

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ABOVE: The cast of The Golden Girls Live: The Christmas Episodes at the Victoria Theatre includes (from left) Coco Peru as Dorothy, Holotta Tymes as Sophia, D’Arcy Drollinger as Rose and Matthew Martin as Blanche. BELOW: Martin, Peru, Tymes and Drollinger catch up on their People reading. Photos by Gareth Gooch

This time of year you have your Christmas Carols and your Nutcrackers. Here in San Francisco we have those, but we also have our own traditions. Now in its 18th year, The Golden Girls Live: The Christmas Episodes is one of our homegrown best.

This year’s installment at the Victoria Theatre comes with a tinge of sadness. This is the first production without the late, great Heklina, one of the driving forces behind the show and also one its stars. She played Dorothy Zbornak, the role created in the original TV sereis by Bea Arthur. So who to fill those large (in every sense) shoes?

That’s where the good news comes in. Drag legend and comedy dynamo Miss Coco Peru is now playing Dorothy, and she is superb. It probably helps that Coco was friends with Heklina and Bea Arthur, but she brings her own deft comic timing and inimitable stage presence to the part and absolutely shines. Dry and droll and funny as hell, Coco is the golden gift we all need this holiday season.

Another highly enjoyable aspect of this holiday outing – two episodes from the long-running series, this year they are “From Here to the Pharmacy” from 1991 and “Goodbye Mr. Gordon” from 1992 – is the wildly different styles of the performers. D’Arcy Drollinger (San Francisco’s first drag laureate, thank you very much) directs and co-stars as Rose Nyland (the Betty White) part, and the acting style could best be described as shameless mugging – and it’s hilarious.

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Holotta Tymes is Sophia Petrillo, Dorothy’s mother, and Tymes is so spot-on in the re-creation of Estelle Getty’s indelible characterization that it’s almost like we’re seeing the real thing. And then there’s Matthew Martin, long one of San Francisco’s treasures, as Blanche Devereaux. He takes a little of original star Rue McClanahan and amps up the character with sexpot elements borrowed from every great movie star diva from the 1940s.

The star performers – the Girls, if you will – are experts at squeezing laughs from the sitcom script, but they also seem to be having a ball, laughing at each other and encouraging boisterous audience response. It also helps that the scripts themselves can be laugh-out-loud funny. Some of Dorothy’s lines, especially as delivered by the delectable Coco, are devastatingly funny. My favorite from the first act is, “I’ll say hail Marys until Madonna has a hit movie.” That’s followed closely by Sophia saying she’s saving money for her old age, to which Dorothy gasps, “Old age? You don’t leave fingerprints anymore!”

As in previous years, during the transition moments when there would be commercials on the show, the live version hands the stage over to Tom Shaw for rousing holiday sing-alongs. The raucous songs combined with flowing cocktails from the bar (in the lobby and in the theater before the show and during intermission) gives the even the feel of a Christmas party on the verge of exploding. For my money, this time of year if you’re searching for festivity, that’s just the kind of place you want to be. Thank you for being a friend, indeed.

The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes continues through Dec. 23 at the Victora Theatre, 2961 16th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $40-$75. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes. Visit for tickets and info.

Miss Coco Peru puts the gun of peace to our heads

Clinton Leupp doesn’t pretend to be a girl. He’s a man in a dress with a drag alter-ego named Coco Peru. He’s very much a man and very much Coco – two personalities for the price of one. Now that’s value for your entertainment dollar in this economically unsteady world.

Leupp brought Coco to the Bay Area three years ago and performed Miss Coco Peru Is Undaunted at the New Conservatory Theatre. Now he’s making his Rrazz Room debut in Ugly Coco, which opened Wednesday, Oct. 15 and continues through Nov. 2 in the posh cabaret venue.

Before heading to San Francisco from the Los Angeles area home he shares with Rafael, his partner of 13 years, Leupp described himself as something of a political performer.

“It’s not that I’m overtly political,” he says, “it’s just that I’m saying things I’ve always wanted to say. I try and do it in a subtle, entertaining way. I think people will appreciate it, especially women. Sometimes drag makes women feel uncomfortable, but women are turned on to this show. That’s one thing I’ve gotten through my career. Women tell me they don’t usually like drag, but they like Coco.”

And what’s not to like about Coco? She’s a trim and pretty redhead, her big blue eyes set off by a prim, bouncy Marlo-Thomas-as-“That Girl” flip. She does her own singing (to recorded tracks), she delves into spiritual matters and curses like a sailor.

In Ugly Coco, before the first number (Cy Coleman and Dorothy Field’s “Nobody Does It Like Me” from the Broadway show Seesaw), he has charmed the audience completely and uttered a four-letter word that rhymes with “runt.” Twice.

The concept for this particular show came from an unpleasant real-life experience. One evening, watching “Ugly Betty” on TV, Leupp saw an autobiographical story from his last show unfolding on the small screen.

“That has happened to me three or four times,” Leupp says. “People in Hollywood say, `That’s egotistical. These things happen.’ Yeah, over and over again. After this one, I decided no, I’m talking about this, and it has been liberating. That’s where the title, `Ugly Coco,’ comes in. You steal from me, I’ll steal from you.”

Much of Ugly Coco is devoted to finding some sort of balance in life – balance amid all the struggle and ugliness. Somehow, Coco emerges as a savior. She calls herself “Drag Queen Jesus” and through various means – including the shimmy – she aims to help people find their inner drag queen. If you can transform the outer, she posits, you can transform the inner.

“One thing I’ve learned doing drag,” Leupp says, “is that people respect courage. Growing up in the Bronx, when I discovered the balls to do this, that’s when people in the old neighborhood started to respect me. People who never spoke to me would say hey on the street.”

So Coco, that misanthropic spiritual adviser (“You know what I hate about reality? People.”) swears she is going to save people, “even if I have to hold a f—–g gun to their heads.”

With her self-described “low-level drag queen celebrity,” Miss Coco has never the less taken Leupp on quite a journey. In the new show he talks about being an ostracized kid who would rather go to Radio City to see the movie version of Mame than go to Yankee Stadium.

Years later, he would be able to count Bea Arthur, whom little Leupp adored on the giant Radio City screen singing “The Man in the Moon ,” as a good friend and the person who introduced him to the joys of sushi. Coco talks about that in the show as well as a fantasy helicopter ride over Manhattan with another famous chum, Liza Minnelli, who also took him backstage to meet Barbra Streisand after a Madison Square Garden concert.

Leupp really is an actor inhabiting a character. He calls himself a drag queen, which is certainly true, but there’s more to Coco than that. She’s acerbic and outspoken and hilarious, and Leupp’s comic delivery is flawless.

Leupp pays homage to drag performers who came before him, including Charles Busch and Charles Pierce, but says he’s the first drag queen he knew of who delivered serious monologues amid all the quippy lines and belted songs.

“I love drag queens in bars – they can be very entertaining,” Leupp says. “But I knew I didn’t want to be in a bar setting. I trained to be an actor. I wanted to be in a theater doing something that was different. That’s what got me noticed in the beginning. I was a drag queen telling autobiographical stories, some of which were even moving. I was vulnerable on stage. Most people expect a drag queen to be sarcastic, bitter and mean to the audience. I wanted to go beyond that.”

In Ugly Coco, Leupp definitely takes Coco beyond that. When he delves into stories of childhood pain – being shunned at church, tortured at school – there’s real ache. And even though Coco ends up bitter more often than enlightened, she just can’t remain cynical or bitter, try as she might.

Listen to Coco sing “Moon River” to her tormented younger self and you’ll hear the pain and triumph of maturity.

Leupp is doing edgy, thought-provoking things with Miss Coco. Audiences show up for the drag queen thing – comedy, songs, bitterness – and come away with a whole lot more. This is edgy, interesting theater. Coco Peru is pretty and profane and – not to get too high and mighty about it – profound.

Ugly Coco continues through Nov. 2 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$35 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 866-468-3399 or visit

Now here’s a sneak peek of Coco in Ugly Coco.