Acrobats take over Club Fugazi with strength, grace and glee

‘Dear San Francisco’ is a loving, lively successor to ‘Beach Blanket Babylon’

Club Fugazi is back — filled with nine sexy acrobats diving through hoops, sliding down poles, standing on top of each other, bouncing off a teeterboard, and, as the name of their show declares, soaring through the air.

“Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story” features The 7 Fingers contemporary circus troupe from Canada in the North Beach theater where, for decades, “Beach Blanket Babylon” delighted audiences with goofy songs and huge headgear until it closed in 2019.

Hats are in this show, too, juggled deftly in a segment set in the Mission by Enmeng Song, a performer who also dazzled handling a Chinese yoyo called diabolo, and shared a fun anecdote about wanting to move to a warm place, only to find, he said, “This city is cold.”

Enmeng Song does cool tricks with a Chinese yoyo called diabolo in “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story.” (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

Enmeng Song does cool tricks with a Chinese yoyo called diabolo in “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story.” (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

And though the costumes (by Keiko Carreiro) in black, white and gray reference our ever-present fog, “Dear San Francisco” — the brainchild of circus pros Gypsy Snider and Shana Carroll of San Francisco’s Pickle Family Circus fame, back home after a stint in Montreal — bursts with warmth in this love letter to their city. But it’s cool as well.

Years in the making, it opened on Tuesday to friends and dignitaries including Mayor London Breed (sassily mentioning she checked with public health to make sure it was OK to not wear a mask during her opening remarks) and Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district includes North Beach. Calling the evening a “dream come true” after the show concluded, he presented a citation of honor to the cast and creators.

Other familiar names flowed, too. Performers read love notes to The City from famous folks including former Giants right fielder Hunter Pence (“You accepted me before I accepted myself”) and theater producer Jon Moscone (“Try as I might, I can’t quit you”) after an opening film sequence showed historical footage of horse-and-buggies cruising down Market Street and from the big 1906 earthquake.

Still, the stunts ruled. Single flyers on a trapeze caught performers thrown in the air by acrobats on the ground; a fellow on a unicycle brought his bike into the house and rode down a long, narrow table; the acrobats maneuvered in and about an old-time phone booth.

Best were the acts with the entire nimble cast: Isabella Diaz, Melvin Diggs, Devin Henderson, Ruben Ingwersen, Kalani June, Jérémi Levesque, Natasha Patterson, the previously mentioned Song (who introduced from the audience Master Lu Yi, former artistic director of China’s Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe and beloved teacher and mentor to many 7 Fingers performers), and Junru Wang.

After candies were passed out and folks in the audience were instructed to unwrap them and eat the “treat they deserve,” things caught fire with the athletes working two Chinese poles: scampering up them, twirling around them and sliding down them, even head first, to throbbing strains of The Doors’ “Break on Through (to the Other Side).” Wild!

In an equally thrilling hoop diving segment with the whole ensemble, the performers recited works by Beat poets Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Hirschman and others set to groovy jazz of the era. (It was hard to catch every word, though; the sound could be sharpened.)

The cast of “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story” performs amazing feats throughout the new show at Club Fugazi. (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

The cast of “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story” performs amazing feats throughout the new show at Club Fugazi. (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

Dialogue from “The Maltese Falcon” with Humphrey Bogart accompanied a smooth duo of jugglers finessing, throwing and balancing gleaming orbs the size of soccer balls; and two flying men bounded and somersaulted on a teeterboard amid lightning and thunder.

The breathtaking finale saw the strong and graceful Wang doing the seemingly impossible, balancing on one or both hands, perched on a post in the air, while a haunting bittersweet piano melody filled the air and her compatriots showered her with words and water, in that touching way Cirque du Soleil enchants when it’s good.

For the epilogue, there was a therapeutic, lively group sing to “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” during which troupers came into the house, offering blooms to some patrons; I took home a little stem with bright yellow petals.

Like the mayor predicted in her talk at the outset, the 90-minute show did capture the spirit and resilience of San Francisco. The perfect tonic for recovery during this world-changing pandemic, “Dear San Francisco” also offers a rare opportunity, said general manager Eric Eislund, for audiences to get an up-close view of world-class acrobats in a small, intimate venue.

Club Fugazi is back, indeed!


Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story

Where: Club Fugazi, 678 Green St., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 6 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: $35 to $89


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