‘Pricey San Francisco’ opens in longtime ‘Seaside Blanket Babylon’ venue

Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story, opens Tuesday night at Club Fugazi (678 Green Street) and marks a new life for the venue that was home to Beach Blanket Babylon for 45 years. The new show was announced last year and in June we learned that there would be some sort of revue with acrobatics, choreography, spoken word, video projections, shadow plays and original music.

The show is designed as a love letter to the city and offers many moments, tableaus and spoken pieces that celebrate the history of the city or represent its peculiarities and charm. But by and large, this is a show that uses the loose framework of the city’s identity – with its historical earthquakes, fires, free love, poetry, drugs, tolerance, and technology – as the backdrop for some sometimes stunning stumps and kinetic dance sequences that Combine aerial work, juggling, pole work and acrobatics of various kinds. Think Cirque du Soleil, but with more words and less makeup, in an intimate setting with some hefty splashes of San Francisco’s pizzazz.

The opening number, which revolves around the earthquake and fire of 1906 and features an original song by composer Colin Gagne, is surprisingly moving – the entire ensemble moves both in tandem and in all directions, symbolizing a collective that survived the disaster and comes out of the other side.

The show is the creation of two women with San Francisco in their blood who have spent the last two decades building a circus troupe and style of performance with Montreal’s acclaimed group The 7 Fingers. Gypsy Snider, who was born in SF’s iconic Pickle Family Circus, is the co-artistic director of The 7 Fingers and co-creator of Dear San Francisco, while Shana Carroll is the daughter of longtime Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll and is also co- Artistic director and co-designer. Both are considered directors of the show.

The troupe who run the show includes two San Franciscans – acrobats Devin Henderson and Natasha Patterson, who are both Bay Area veterans and veterans of the local Cricus scene. But the rest of the cast is an international mix of talent from China, Australia, Canada and elsewhere in the US

Ruben Ingwersen (left) and Jérémi Levesque. | Photo credit: Kevin Bern

Impressive talents include Melvin Diggs, who came to the 7 Fingers through Circus Flora in St. Louis and Cirque du Soleil. As an amazing acrobat and graceful performer, Diggs does some incredible aerial stunts and also gives some formidable muscle support to his stage mates. The Australian Ruben Ingwersen and the Canadian Jeremi Levesque play a death-defying teaterboard number in the middle of the show, which vaguely addresses an earthquake. And Junru Wang’s talent at hand balancing is being saved for the penultimate act on the show – and the directors also created a poignant vignette that matches her talents.

Junru Wang | Photo: Kevin Bern

The kinetic pace and general thrust of Dear San Francisco is contagious, and after a brisk 90 minutes it’s hard not to want to stop. But the show is mind-blowing and is likely to appeal to a wide audience in the style of Stomp and the Cirque du Soleil franchise, while also playing the role of cultural cheerleaders and odists for the City by the Bay. Over time, the team intends to evolve and modify the show, much like Beach Blanket Babylon has done, to allow for repeated viewings over the years.

A quick foray satirizing SF’s recent tech boom falls a little flat – though it’s not without a laugh – and a sequence celebrating the poetry of the beat generation in North Beach, with short lines from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane Di. Prima, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and among others the recently deceased Jack Hirschman is serious, but could perhaps do without the Beatnik berets.

Whatever you’re looking for from this show, you’re likely to be surprised, amazed, and a little out of breath like the seemingly tireless performers themselves.

Keep in mind that the food and beverage service hasn’t started yet – and it will likely only be available before and after each performance – cups and plates don’t really work in a room where the performers are often everywhere at the same time, riding a unicycle across the bar in front of you.

Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story runs at Club Fugazi for an indefinite period. Tickets are available for as little as 39 US dollars.

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