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‘Beach Blanket’ dazzles City Hall for 40th birthday

Crowds packed into San Francisco City Hall this afternoon to take in a public show celebrating 40 years of Steve Silver’s “Beach Blanket Babylon” with plenty of large hats, glittering costumes and local celebrity appearances.

Hailed as one of the most popular, longest running musical revues in the country, the show created in San Francisco by the late Silver in 1974 celebrated its 40th anniversary Friday.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, former Mayor Willie Brown, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, and others adorned in sequined suits, Superman costumes and other elaborate outfits enjoyed the free performance under the City Hall dome.

The show, which started at the Savoy Tivoli before moving to Club Fugazi in North Beach in 1975, has staged more than 15,000 performances in its long run.

Lee, who quipped he “rummaged through (former mayor) Willie Brown’s closet” before donning a maroon sequined suit, said “Babylon” has “become part of our city’s history:”

“I can’t sing like other mayors. I can’t dance, I can’t act, but at least I can be here with you.”

Lee said the show is “how we celebrate our city.”

As the character Snow White led the audience through a musical explanation of the show’s history and story line, Brown himself descended the grand staircase in a king’s crown and a fur-lined cape in his role as the Emperor.

He was joined by Shultz in a Superman T-shirt, who sang at the base of the steps, with his wife Charlotte Shultz in a Wonder Woman costume.

San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas played the role of the Maestro and called the long-running performance “irreverent,” “irresistible” and “incandescent.”

Miss San Francisco appeared at the end with her gigantic San Francisco hat, which included small versions of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Transamerica Pyramid building, and the famous Painted Ladies Victorian houses, while the cast sang “San Francisco” with its quintessential line, “San Francisco, open your golden gate.”

The standing-room only audience included state Attorney General Kamala Harris, state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco, police Chief Greg Suhr, and Giants president and CEO Larry Baer.

The crowd watched the shimmering spectacle, which included a flying Snow White, a sassy Glinda the Good Witch, a sparkling Mr. Peanut, outlandish hats depicting a Las Vegas slot machine, London’s Buckingham palace, a Ritz crackers box, piles of bananas and pineapples and many others.

Following the performance, local ice cream shop Humphry Slocombe gave away free scoops of banana ice cream.

Eileen Lawden, who lives in San Francisco’s Sunnyside neighborhood, wore a red foam “Babylon” hat while waiting for the cold treat.

She said she is a longtime “Babylon” fan. She celebrated her 30th birthday by watching the show back in the 1990s.

Although John Frank, 59, is blind, he said he still goes to the show at Club Fugazi to be part of what he considers a must-see San Francisco experience.

Frank said he has seen the show 56 times in the past 37 years and more recently when he lost his vision he could still follow along with an audio component:

“It’s quirky. … It attempts to be fresh, cutting edge.”

Frank noted the performance adds segments about current events, political and otherwise, such as the recent ordeal over racial remarks made by former Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Don Sterling.

“It’s very San Francisco,” Frank, a Sunset District resident, said. “You’re not a San Franciscan until you go.”

More information about tickets and the show is available at

— Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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