“The Barbary Coast Revue” at Sub/Mission Gallery is a diamond in rough. Make that a gold nugget in the rough, since that is the currency frequently traded in the show. More raucous than a dusty historical re-enactment, slightly less silly than “Beach Blanket Babylon,” the show nevertheless owes a nod to the latter as it tells the tale of plucky, adventurous types seeking fame, fortune and, of course, true love in foggy San Francisco.
The protagonists are Alma De Bretteville, of Union Square’s Victory high-flying statue and the Spreckels fortune, and Jerry “The Professor” Thomas, Portsmouth Square bartender from 1849 to 1851.
The pair meets cute in a rowboat on the Bay, breaks up and then realizes they’ve lost their true love and must find it again. Of course these two never actually met. He died in 1885 and she was not born until 1881. Still, they make a cute couple.
Swirling around them are San Francisco icons such as cigar-puffing, fireman-loving Lillian Coit (yes, of the Tower), the Emperor Norton, the double-entendred James “Shanghai” Kelly, who sold men into Chinese seafaring slavery, and journalist Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, who lived in San Francisco in the 1860s.
Danny Kennedy’s Twain leads the sextet as a wry, dry rock-and-roll troubadour, observing, narrating, participating and accompanying the evening on an amped acoustic guitar. He’s a sage, comic everyman who provides the production’s anchor.
Stephanie Rapa makes for a saucy, sassy goodtime girl as Alma, the woman who coined the term “sugar daddy,” and Andrew Lampl is the endearing, hyper-kinetic nebbish who hates her sins but loves the sinner. Both bring some of the strongest voices and acting chops to the performance.
Stacey Kennedy as Coit and Evan Kaminsky as Kelly have the look and attitude down pat, but neither is a strong singer or actor, which becomes seriously disconcerting at times. (Playwright-director Blake Wiers filled the role of Norton at the last minute in the performance I attended.)
Being a revue, there is music and tongue is firmly in cheek as existing pop ballads from the 1980s and ‘90s by groups like Starship and Journey are tweaked or parodied to provide the score. “We built this city on rocks of gold!” is a frequent refrain. (Sing-along is encouraged.)
It’s sassy. It’s funny. It goes down easy. The challenge will be the venue, which looks to be an uninviting construction site in the Mission. You wander through a desolate looking club, through some dingy doors and around a creepy corner before you get to the smiling faces of the bartender and company.
If the production can create a more welcoming venue and tighten up some of the performances, this revue could become an entertaining way to start a Saturday night Mission crawl.
IF YOU GO
The Barbary Coast Revue
Where: Sub/Mission Gallery, 2183 Mission St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes Nov. 29