Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pearls Over Shanghai Remounted: A Spectacular Show Made Even More Spectacular

Connie Champagne as Petrushka and Russell Blackwood as Mother Fu

One of the most spectacular shows seen in San Francisco in years, The ThrillpeddlersPearls Over Shanghai is riding a wave of popularity, and it has been sold out for months. Now the Cockettes musical remounting has been held over through April 24, 2010. The show is being presented at The Hypnodrome, which usually presents Grand Guignol productions.

Forty years have passed since the hippie theatrical group known as The Cockettes dazzled The City with their shows, and Pearls Over Shanghai was one of the finest. This journalist and the rest of packed early 1970’s audiences at the Palace Theater in North Beach were pulled into the very un-PC atmospheric version of that Chinese city and its drug and sex underground.

Huge improvements since the 70s — professional costumes, rehearsals, and all of the cast is onstage instead of a handful nodding off backstage on drugs.

Stage director Russell Blackwood and musical director (and original Cockette) Richard “Scrumbly” Koldewyn deserve the highest praise for their production by Link Martin (book/lyrics) and Koldewyn (music). A viewing of the films Shanghai Gesture and The Bitter Tea of General Yen and their bizarre Hollywood filtering of the Orient prepares audiences for the Thrillpeddlers stage production. It is an advertisement for the pleasures of opium and is also a cautionary tale of what can befall young American women trying to break into show business.

Some of the most remarkable scenes include: An beautiful and exotic Kara Emry working over hunky William McMichael with her heels and a whip, sultry Steven Satyricon romancing a curiously appealing Eric Tyson Wertz, amazing Jef Valentine and TJ Ladies and Gentlemen convincingly corrupting some young women, and Russell Blackwood’s, Rumi Missabu’s, and Lanny Baugniet’s masterful command of the stage.

Thanks to San Francisco Bay Times reporter Dennis McMillan the all important display of male frontal nudity was also revived. The Cockettes were unique, even in the 70s, for their sexual freedom inside and outside of their commune, and onstage nudity was an important part of that freedom. One penis in this show is decorated and waved freely. Another is hidden for a Ken Doll look, and the third is flashed at the audience. Also remarkable is that the crowd was very vocal in their pleasure, yelling out and screaming at their favorite scenes throughout the evening.

And to celebrate the Cockettes’ 40 years there will be songs from other shows performed in January 2010, after Pearls shows. For people who miss the Cockettes and their teenage years in the 70’s in San Francisco, this show is a window of awareness and feeling for a time of freedom and rampant sexuality. Pearls Over Shanghai is a primal and beautiful gift symbolized by the giant poppy on Russell Blackwood’s headdress and the gyrating eager-to-please bodies on stage.

Pearls Over Shanghai is currently held over through April 24, 2010.
The Hippnodrome
575 10th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 377-4202

[Photo caption: 6/12/09 — Connie Champagne as Petrushka and Russell Blackwood as Mother Fu in The Thrillpeddlers' "Pearls Over Shanghai," a re-mounting the Cockettes' spectacular show at The Hypnodrome.]

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