Thrillpeddlers Turns in Wild, Lusty Performance as Pearls Over Shanghai Nears Its End (NSFW)
"Unapologetic depravity." One of our theater critics used the phrase to describe Pearls Over Shanghai. The words encompass not only the musical, but also the troupe performing it Saturday night (Thrillpeddlers), the theater-of-the-absurd troupe that wrote it (the Cockettes), and San Francisco itself.
Keith Bowers Mother Fu (played by director Russell Blackwood) holds court as a sailor (Gianni Michael Lyle) sings.
The plot of Pearls is manifold but almost irrelevant. A villain called Madam Gin Sling wants to enslave three American virgins named Delightful, Deluxe, and Delicious. Chang is the madam's Film Noir sidekick gangster, and his sidekick is Red Dragon. Sebastian is in love with a Russian singer named Petrushka, who's tangled up with Chang. Captain Eddy wants to rescue the virgins; he's in love with Lili Frustrata, but he can't marry her. Mother Fu is a woman who's been around the block and has her own cast of minions. There are sexy sailors, whores, handmaidens, and angels, all of whom appear in various states of dress and undress. (Here's your NSFW warning.) There's a two-headed baby. It's all an excuse to perform songs with outrageously funny lyrics while wearing costumes that would make a Las Vegas choreographer's jaw drop.
Thrillpeddlers says goodbye next weekend to Pearls, which has run nearly two years. Yet the company won't bid farewell to the Cockettes, as its next production is Vice Palace, another musical written by the troupe. We hear that Vice Palace is loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death, and the Thrillpeddlers adaptation incorporates aspects of the early 1960s films of Federico Fellini. It sounds ridiculous -- as the Cockettes would surely applaud.