The Cockettes are Back; My Life on “Craigslist”; One Night Only at Pier 39

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on June 19, 2009


“Pearls Over Shanghai” is more than flamboyant – it’s a psychedelic trip, smoke and all.

“Pearls” was originally produced as a Nocturnal Dream Show that performed at the old Palace Theatre in Chinatown. It turns out that it brought fame and probably not fortune to the “Cockettes” who made it big – but like all groups, they fizzled out and the magic never took to the stage again. Until now that is, with The Thrillpeddlers re-invention of “Pearls” at the Hippnodrome Theater on 10th Street in SF.

How do they walk in them? I’m talking about the highest stilettos that I have ever seen. Towering is the word – and that word can also be used for the performances. This is the most perfect gender-bender show that I have ever seen. The makeup is unbelievable, and the music selections by Scrumbly Goldwyn are just terrific. This musical play is based loosely on John Colton’s 1926 Broadway play, The Shanghai Gesture and Josef von Sternberg’s 1941 film adaptation that starred Marlene Dietrich. Of course, we won’t mention Marlene and Gender Bender in the same sentence.

This decadent tale is of white slavery and opium dens and sex for sale at every corner. Gee, sounds like San Francisco to me. Rumi Missabu (an original Cockette) plays the Evil Madame Gin Sling. For this production, original Cockettes Tahara and Billy Bowers have lent their great talents to resident costume mistress Kara Emry. And what imagination they have created. The designs are super fab. There are glitzy things everywhere, it is 1930’s splendor. Living inside of “Tiffany’s” couldn’t be anymore campy.

The blurred sexual lines will keep you interested and intrigued, along with joy, fun and nostalgia. Hippie era never looked so good. It takes you back to the dawn of the 70’s and the Haight. Sure, it didn’t last, but thanks to the Thrillpeddlers they have brought it all back in living Technicolor.

It’s all here on the stage … Tranny Floozies and Hippies on acid. The Cockettes paved the way for John Waters and his flock of gender films. Then, of course there was “The Rocky Horror Show.”

Here’s the deal: If you want to relive the freewheeling spirit of the colorful era – it’s all there, on the stage, brought to you by the Thrillpeddlers. The Cockettes won many, many awards and recognition. In San Francisco, the Bay Area Critics Circle gave them one of the highest awards. They had fans everywhere, including Alice Cooper, Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin and Truman Capote. Of course, they were part of that glossy time. Isn’t time for this show to become a Broadway musical? I think so.

If you really want to be entertained in a huge wide screen sort of way – then you sure as hell won’t want to miss this rare glimpse of one of the most exciting times in history. Besides – sexual anarchy becomes you. And to make you more comfortable, there are wonderfully cushy sofas for you to lie down on. Just like an Opium den.

There is a cast of thousands in the musical play so I can’t fit them all in, even though everyone deserves the highest of praises. The wonderful stage direction is by Russell Blackwood (who is in the play). The Musical Director and pianist is Richard “Scrumbly’ Koldewyn who also is one of the cast. These girls alternate: Connie Champagne, Katya Smirnoff-Skyy and Leanne Borghesi, all take on the role of Petrushka (the role was first created by disco diva Sylvester) in the original productions.

“It’s the Year’s Most Ambitious and Biggest Fantasy!”

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)


‘My Life’ is a fun romp about what it is like to meet dates on ‘Craigslist’

Jeffrey Self is the star of this play. He is a thin attractive guy, and he has a bubbly personality. Jeffery tells us stories about the kind of guys that he meets on Craig’s list. Some of them seem to border on dangerous, and other stories are very funny. His self-deprecating humor gets him through life.

Once he starts his dating on Craigslist – he is hooked. At first he is a little shy, but soon learns to deal with all kinds of things. Like one man who had on “Vampire sex scent”. One guy was really bizarre. As Jeffrey in bent over (you know why) the Ape like guy behind him sez “Don’t touch your Dick M#$%&*F%#&*r!” I didn’t, JF says.

Jeffrey has seen it all (and had them all it seems), and it gives us some very humorous stories to tell others. Actually, he reminds me of a friend that I went to New York with. He too was a little “Too Pretty” for some, but older men thought he was the Madonna. They wanted to put him on a pedestal. In fact, when we were staying at the “Y” in New York, a guy that he had meant came in to try to get me to arrange a Date with “Donnie.” “I just want to put him on a Pedestal” – he said. And I thought — “Sure you do. I know what you want to do.” Donnie however went on to bigger and better catches as time went on. I stopped going anywhere with him – because all the older guys would knock me down trying to get to Donnie. There was no Craigslist then, but years later – there was the Berkeley Barb. And you know what, you met the same kind of “One Night Stands.”

And as Jeffrey Self says – this is “a one-night stand you don’t want to miss!”



The Shirelles. Beverly Lee In middle.


Light up the lights, Get out the flags – cause the Rrazz Room is JUMPING TO THE MUSIC of the SHIRELLES!

They were first. The Shirelles were the first American girl group in the 60’s. And they were the first to have a number one single on the Billboard Hot 100. Beverly Lee was one of the originals, and she is the only original that is currently with the group. The group had many, many hits. Here are a few: “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Welcome Home Baby,” “Blue Holiday,” “Baby It’s You” (written by Burt Bacharach / Hal David / Barney Williams), “Mama Said,” “Foolish Little Girl” and the #1 Pop hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (Gerry Goffin, Carole King) and of course the wonderfully touching “Soldier Boy” (written by Florence Greenburg/Luther Dixon.) The song is still soul stirring today – and the Shirelles dedicated it to today’s Soldiers who are still fighting wars. You will remember “Sha La La” that became an international hit. It was so big that even the Beatles recorded it.

They started out with the rousing “Having A Party” – and that is exactly what it was, a great big party. Everyone was wiggling around, getting up on the stage and singing with the Shirelles (at their invitation). And even if you stay put on your plush chair, you won’t be able to stop you body from keeping time with the music. When they sang “Dedicated To the One I Love” it brought back a flood of memories. I said to a friend of mine: “Why can’t they write songs like that anymore? Where are the writers? Someday, they will write songs like that again – and I hope I am around to hear them.”

Fall in love again with “Tomorrow.” The lyric: “But will you love me tomorrow?” Not good for you if you just broke up with someone. You can blame the Shirelles for that — for their passionate delivery. There was a tribute to Etta James. And a tribute to Beverly Lee who has been with the Shirelles from the beginning (and still dances likes a teen-ager on American Bandstand.) What a fun, exciting evening listening to such talent. I was kind-a down in the dumps when I got there – but they sure blew those clouds away. I left floating on air and feeling younger.

They end up the show with the most rousing rendition of “Love Train” that I have ever heard. I have to say that the band was “really boffo.” Oh My God, were they fantastic. The only one that I knew (I think it was him) was Kelly Park on the Piano. If I’m wrong, I’m sure that someone will correct me. Whoever that genius was – it was the most exciting piano playing that I have ever heard on a stage.

THE SHIRELLES ARE ADDICTIVE FUN AND DELICIOUSLY RIVETING. They updated the songs here and there to give a fresh new sound to these standards. I wouldn’t even call them old – because these girls skillfully show us again what masters of music they are. At the end they got a rapturous standing ovation. Yep – it’s a non-stop thrill ride. And one I hope you won’t miss.

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-



The show with company members from the National Touring Companies of “Spamalot” & “Wicked” put on an evening of song, dance and comedy to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation. And all this tremendous talent were at the J’LaChic theatre 39 – a wonderful space with great sight lines. And boy are the seats comfy.

There were wonderful things going on. Here were some of my faves. “Spam-a-Rap” song by Nigel Columbus, Tera-Lee Polin, Matt Alen, Angelina Mullin, and Paula Wise. The Doo Wop Medley was wonderful – sung by “Top Shelf,” the singing group whose home is J’LaChicTheatre 39. Next time your down around that way, you should stop in a hear this guys. They are fantastic.

Lovely was the some from Secret Garden “Lily’s Eyes” sung by Christopher Sutton & Timothy Connell. “Original Musical” with very clever lyrics sung by Christopher Gurr & James Cunningham was a lot of fun. From the Musical “Rent” (that will be playing San Francisco soon) – “Seasons of Love” sung by The Company was thrilling. Also Laugh out loud funny was “Whatever Happened to my song” sung by Merle Dandridge. She was Brilliant. Wonderful, warm and enthralling evening by terrific talents. They gave their time to bring us this thrilling dazzler of an evening to help charities. And we thank them.

Next Up! Make your plans now – cause tickets for this one are already in demand. Help Is On The Way XV will have their 15th Anniversary Gala “No Business Like Show Business” at the Herbst Theatre in SF on August 2nd, 7:30 pm. Here are just a few of the stars that will be there. Susan Anton, Jim Bailey, Carole Cook, Tyne Daly, John Lloyd Young, Joely fisher, Deborah Gibson, Kimberley Locke, Shawn Ryan, Maureen McVerry and Wesla Whitfield. Others will be announced. Now that is an all-star line-up.
Tix & Info: 415-273-1620.

The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour.



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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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