Review: High flying ‘Dear San Francisco’ soars

Filling the space vacated by the 45-year run of Beach Blanket Babylon, which closed on Dec. 31, 2019, “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story” has taken root at Club Fugazi in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. (All photos by Kevin Berne)

Since 1974, “Beach Blanket Babylon” served as the default show for tourists coming to San Francisco. The hugely irreverent production, founded by San José State alumnus Steve Silver, followed the Wizard of Oz’s perpetually sunny heroine Dorothy as she searched for love in the City’s colorful and delightfully funky neighborhoods.

The show’s take on love, pop culture, current events, all showcased with large, obnoxious wigs and hats were an institution in San Francisco for 45 years. And when it became a reality that there would be no year 46 and no big skyline hat finale, the fantastic little theatre in North Beach that shared the same name as the street it sat upon faced an uncertain future.

After nearly two years of darkness, a completely different vibe finally made its way into the quaint, renovated space. And while Club Fugazi does not boast a ton of width, it is the high ceilings that cemented what the new show will be for a very long time.

“Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story” carries a very different vibe than its predecessor. While “Beach Blanket Babylon” featured biting satire and pointed snark ripped straight from the headlines, this new production is about skill, athleticism and heart, informed by all the charm that San Francisco offers.

Club Fugazi Experiences, in collaboration with Montreal’s The 7 Fingers Creative Collective co-founders Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider, have built the show on a beautiful and rich harmony of performance art and scintillating kinesis. Each moment and set of words are love letters to the magic of San Francisco. Sometimes the words belong to the longtime natives, and in varying moments of poignancy, they belong to transplants whose nostrils got a whiff of magical, salty ocean mist, causing them to now carry a piece of San Francisco within their soul. There are memories shared that bring up first kisses, first loves, second chances, and even a tribute from Hunter Pence of the San Francisco Giants, a player whose personality melded uniquely with his adopted city.

The nine-member cast of acrobats all bring different skill sets with no pretense whatsoever. Much of what is put out is eye-popping, yet tender and warm, the troupe even gifting the audience with butterscotch candy at one point. And why butterscotch? Because it’s fun, nostalgic, and tastes good.

Butterscotch was not the only thing that brought up a sensory feast. The show itself is an absolute delight, showcasing multiple styles of acrobatics that defy death at every turn. While there are plenty of moments that showcase the trapeze and polls that tempt gravity to do their worst, there are also showcases that emphasize tenderness.

Take the example of performer Emmeng Song, who dazzles with a diabolo, a variation of the Chinese yo-yo, while sharing what that toy and San Francisco has meant to him – “This toy gave me a life of my own, and gave me a family.”

There are dances with glowing crystal-balls, a hyper-infused battle on a teeter-totter, balancing on stools, plenty of quips about the expense of living in San Francisco, and simple projections that show city life at the turn of the century, along with the rich murals that adorn the Mission District. Creatives such as Alexander V. Nichols’ and his set, video and lighting design, along with Jake Rodriguez’s imaginative soundscape, all lay bare a production that is stunning in its simplicity, wonderfully textured and rich with verve.

While the show certainly feels aimed at those tourists who want to grab hold of something to sink their teeth into other than clam chowder in an overpriced bread bowl, the power of this production is that it appeals equally to both visitors and natives. Those of us that live in this region who still carry a romanticism towards the Bay Area’s premiere destination have not been left out of San Francisco’s latest reinvention.   

If there is any artistic justice in the world, we will be celebrating this high-flying love story for a very, very long time.  

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

Club Fugazi Experiences and the 7 Fingers Creative Collective present “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story”
Created and directed by Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider
The Word: A show that is magnificent in its artistry, with eye-popping movement and acrobatics, all dedicated to the glory of San Francisco.
Open-ended
100 minutes, no intermission
Club Fugazi
678 Green Street, San Francisco, CA
Tickets range from $35 – $89
For tickets and info, call (415) 273-0600 or visit www.clubfugazisf.com

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