The Cockettes’ “Pearls Over Shanghai”!

A Technicolor Discovery

Nearly six months ago, the local Thrillpeddlers Theatre production of The Cockettes’ musical Pearls Over Shanghai entered my theatrical radar. My friend Leanne Borghesi (faux queen Anita Cocktail) was Associate Directing it, and gearing up for a short run as Petrushka, the “White Russian femme fatal”. At the time I knew nothing of The Cockettes nor Thrillpeddlers. The “Pearls…” poster (gotta love the innuendo!), Leanne’s involvement, and the technicolor photos I found online (see teasers below) easily enticed me to want to know and see more!

PEARLS Card Front

My friend David Crocker, a Dresser at the SF Opera, painted some vivid pictures for me of attending the original Cockette’s productions at the Palace theatre in the late 60s. Most potent for me, of course, were his references to operatic excerpts from Madama Butterfly.

Pearls Over Shanghai

Goldie Glitters (Photo © Susie Nightowl)

When I finally attended “Pearls…” with CJ and some friends, I was completely drawn into the spirit of it…bawdy, risque, irreverant, and fabulous! The intimate Hypnodrome theatre (45 seat capacity) aids in the visceral nature of the experience. Two original Cockettes are in this production: Rumi Missabu (the original Madame Gin Sling) and Scrumbly Koldewyn (composer of “Pearls…”, lyricist for Petrushka’s solos, as well as current music director and pianist). I knew this was the next sort of theatrical endeavor I HAD to be a part of. My recent involvement in “Hair”, from the same era, was a natural transition into this. And, recently meeting and working with Walter Harris, brother of Cockettes’ founder Hibiscus, at West Fest allowed it to hit even closer to home.

Hello Chang!

Fast forward a few months. My friend Val (my Frankenfurter in ROLT’s Rocky…) followed Michael Soldier (aka Precious Moments), and TJ Buswell (a Thrillpeddlers’ regular) as Chang. However, his run was ending just before Thanksgiving. The production would need a new Chang come December. Thanks to nods from Val and Leanne, and my passion for the show, I was cast as the new Chang, for the December 4th through 18th performances. This character is the Crime/Gangster Lord of China, and referred to as “Mister Money”, and the “Ziegfield of China”…how fun is that?! I’m looking forward to raising the bar on my makeup skills too, since the performers design and apply their own.

I’m ecstatic to be stepping into this rich tradition, and special production. It’s one part burlesque, one part cabaret, one part drag show, and one part staged musical. It conjures up the spirit of what I imagine shows in pre-war Berlin, or Vaudeville were like…well, sort of.

Come & Experience It

Buy your tickets now! Be prepared to check yourPC at the door. The Thrillpeddlers just received an SF Bay Guardian Goldie Award, so thankfully they are getting some well deserved attention and kudos. Be sure to rent The Cockettes’ documentary, AND enjoy a video preview of the current production (find more in my vodpod widget). Although my run as Chang will have ended, the 40th Anniversary of the original production will be celebrated into the extended January run, with special after-shows!

Pearls Over Shanghai

Madame Gin Sling (Rumi Missabu), and Three White Virgins!


Madame Gin Sling, Mother Fu (Russell Blackwood), and Chang (Michael Soldier)

Pearls Over Shanghai

Shangri La and Whores

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