Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma

The Thrillpeddlers have revived another Cockettes musical, Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma, and the result is a piece of wildly entertaining, overstuffed fabulousness containing more glitter and upended 1930s movie cliches than seems possible. (Above are left to right Noah Haydon, Steven Satyricon and Dalton Goulette singing The Lunch Counter Song.)

The original hippie genderfuck troupe performed midnight shows briefly in the early 1970s at the Palace Movie Theatre in North Beach, whose empty husk is where the Central Subway dig is going to be disgorging equipment after the project burrows its way under Chinatown. Though most of the original Cockettes performers are dead either from AIDS, drug overdoses, old age, or other misfortunes, there are a few survivors, notably the three performers above (from left to right, Pam Tent, Scrumbly Koldewyn seated at the piano, and Rumi Missabu on top) who are all being featured in this revival.

Pam Tent above, playing Vedda Viper, published a well-received memoir in 2004 called Midnight at the Palace: My Life as a Fabulous Cockette. While with the troupe, she married the bisexual singer/composer Scrumbly Koldewyn in a famous Mount Tamalpais hippie wedding and they had a child christened Cactus, now in his early 40s. When the troupe went to New York with Tinsel Tarts in a legendarily disastrous attempt at being stars in the Big Apple, she was seven months pregnant. (Click here for a lovely article by Edward Guthmann from the SF Chronicle in 2004).

Rumi above plays Brenda Breakfast who is discovered with fellow waitress starlets in Hollywood, and is then cast as a scary old witch doctor in a big-budget South Sea Islands film.

The heart and soul of the show is composer, accompanist and singer Scrumbly Koldewyn above right, dancing with Michael Soldier as "Auntie Social" while singing the duet When Petals Fall in Petaluma. The original show was a four-page outline with a few original songs by Koldewyn and "sampled" period songs. For this reimagining, Koldewyn has excavated his extensive songbook and inserted a couple dozen of his own choral production numbers, ballads, and novelty songs that are half worshipful and half parodies of 1930s standards.

The show starts off self-referentially with references to the 1971 New York disaster, and then jumps right into its first Ensemble production number, Ain't We Deluxe? As you might gather from the photo above, this reconstruction follows the Cockettes credo that there is no such thing as too much glitter or a costume that is too over-the-top.

The plot has something to do with the thespian Madge The Magnificent (above, played by Raya Light) and her mistreated personal servants who want to break into showbiz themselves.

Madge stomps off a movie set in Hollywood and after a magnificent cross-country Choo-Choo Train production number, goes to a party at Auntie Social's Manhattan penthouse where she insults Salvador Deli (Jim Toczyl) above.

This is probably a good place to mention that the show is so completely surrealistic that altering your consciousness with psychedelic drugs before attending might not be a bad idea. The original audiences certainly did so. Above is Steven Satyricon, one of the chorus boys in Banana Song, a filthy version of the same Carmen Miranda number used in Busby Berkeley's The Gangs All Here.

The climactic Pele Melee, slyly sending up both Throw a Virgin into The Volcano movies and Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti, is an hilarious scene that is trumped by the finale where everyone goes to hell and sings and dances, naked and clothed, The Hades Lowdown. You can't ask for much more than that.


Diego Gómez said...

what a great review! Thanks a bunch (of bananas)

Michael Strickland said...

Dear Diego: You're welcome. Loved your Pele Melee.