The Cockettes, San Francisco’s famed gender-bending, convention-mocking theatrical melange, have returned.
It’s been a mere 42 years since their musical “Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma” inspired Rex Reed to abuse his thesaurus in search of superlatives — then bombed when the drugged-out troupe attempted to move it from their midnight “home” in San Francisco’s Palace Theatre to New York’s East Village (this writer was there opening night, and the show was a mess). Now its original composer and lyricist, Scrumbly Koldewyn, and book co-writer Pam Tent (aka Sweet Pam) have brought it back to life in a new production presented by Thrillpeddlers.
Re-imagining and fleshing out what initially was a four-page outline with songs sprinkled about, Koldewyn and Tent united with a third surviving Cockette, Rumi Missabu, a superb stage director-actor Russell Blackwood and a rotating cast of 24 (plus three musicians) to create a bona fide South of Market spectacle.
Even if you don’t know a thing about the Cockettes, just hearing their name suggests that their productions venture far beyond the bounds of traditional parental advisories.
Bedecked with enough glitter to cause a panic attack among the glitterati, the Cockette oldies and newbies have mounted a full-length, two-act, 22-song musical spoof on the classic Hollywood tale of the lecherous casting couch director, Cecil Von Paramour (Gerri Lawlor on opening night); a down but not yet out aging star, Madge the magnificent (Blackwood); and her assistant and aspiring heir, Prunella Prune (Bonni Suval).
To this, add radio gossip monger Vedda Viper (Tent), the Marx Brothers (Jim Jeske, Koldewyn, Carlos Barrera), the Queen of Mars (impressive alto belter Leigh Crow), trance channel Edgar Cayce (Eric Tyson Wertz), the terrifyingly dressed Brenda Breakfast (Missabu), Richard Wagner’s Brünnhilde singing German lyrics that would have made the misogynist, anti-Semitic composer blush (ZsaZsa Lufthansa), the frighteningly lipped Auntie Social (Michael Soldier), Salvador Deli (Jim Toczyl) and many more.
It’s all ridiculous, of course, but the plot does hold together, the lyrics are hilarious and the costumes are to die for.
There’s a great tap dance number, and such delightful songs as “When Petals Fall in Petaluma” and “Banana Song,” which makes explicit what Busby Berkeley merely hinted at. There’s also a multimedia horror sequence that eclipses Hitchcock in camp value.
Deserving special mention are Noah Haydon, whose supreme control of facial expressions as Sally Snack commands attention, and Steven Satyricon, whose boundless energy and stunning physique promise other pleasures. You may not be able to tell who is who, genderwise, until dresses and robes part, but many do.
The Cockettes, who embody everything your mother warned you about, celebrate joy and freedom with true San Francisco gaiety. Complete with lines as memorable as “Shoot me with rear projection,” “Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma” merits all bananas up.