Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Babylon in San Francisco: Beach Blanket Babylon Is One of the Longest-Running Attractions of the City by the Bay. but Is It Gay? Well, Thereon Hangs a Tale

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Babylon in San Francisco: Beach Blanket Babylon Is One of the Longest-Running Attractions of the City by the Bay. but Is It Gay? Well, Thereon Hangs a Tale

Article excerpt

It's one of those endearing San Francisco institutions, like painted Victorian houses and cable cars. And as it marks its 30th anniversary in June, Beach Blanket Babylon is still packing 'em in. Essentially Babylon is a musical revue of fast-cutting scenes and celebrity spoofing songs. Characters change depending oil the news of the day: Paris Hilton and P. Diddy are currently in the mix, and there's a number about San Francisco's gay marriage boom sung to "Get Me to the Church on Time."

But it's the trademark oversize hats that audiences remember. The hats include giant pizza boxes, towering tropical drinks, a stupendous pink pompadour, and the traditional finale, a 200-pound chapeau rendering of the city skyline, complete with twinkling bridges, skyscrapers, and fog. It appears on the bead of longtime star Val Diamond as the audience claps along to the title song of the 1936 Jeanette MacDonald saloon and earthquake movie, San Francisco.

It's curious how something with the air of an indulged curio has endured so strongly--although that could also be said of San Francisco. The show was the brainchild of Steve Silver, a local art student and street performer who started a business in the early 1970s called Rent a Freak. The idea was to dress up in wild costumes and attend Pacific Heights society parties and other "happenings," just to provide a little edge. With the support of key people like the city's former chief of protocol, Silver brought his freak show to the stage, added parody songs, and appended the "beach blanket" theme because he liked the bouncy energy of the old Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello movies. He also found a perfect creative partner in out hatmaker Alan Greenspan, who's been constructing Babylon's millinery visions since 1978. …

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