About five years ago I met director Russell Blackwood, who runs the Hypnodrome theatre with his husband Jim Toczyl, after he stumbled upon my book, Midnight at the Palace, and contacted me. His theatre troupe, The Thrillpeddlers, had been performing Grand Guignol horror plays, complete with spine-tingling lights-out spookshows, and Theatre of the Ridiculous musicals for years in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. Russell wanted to meet the remaining Cockettes–and it was kismet.
The hypnodrome, itself, is the epitome of quirky with it’s shock-box love seats, cutained off from the rest of the audience, to the Turkish Lounges, where couples can lie back on piles of pillows to enjoy the show. Greeted by devils, esoteric bric-a-brac, a giant guillotine and gimmicks galore, the tiny theatre, with its 49 seats, houses thrills, chills and enough diversity and talent to delight even the most jaded theatre-goer.
It was immediately evident that The Cockettes had found a new home and joined with The Thrillpeddlers to begin an exciting era remounting productions of past Cockettes shows along with the continuing traditions of the summer Creep Show Camp for kiddies and the Grand Guignol Theatre presentations.
Scrumbly was on board as musical director/song writer with Fayette and Rumi joining the cast for the remake of the Cockettes’ Pearls Over Shanghai, which went on to have 5 revivals (thus far). Tahara, Billy Bowers and Beaver leant their ideas and creativity to costumes and VinC came up with fabulous set innovations to turn a tiny space into a theatrical showcase with innventive props and sets.
I joined the shows in 2013 when Scrumbly and I revamped a show we’d taken to New York in 1971 called Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma. With fresh dialogue and 22 brand new tunes (we had to scrap the old standards we’d originally borrowed) the show ran for five months.
The following year we reprised Pearls Over Shanghai with a few tweaks, a new cast and new costumes. The show is now a finalist in 10 different categories for outstanding work in musical theatre in the first annual Theatre Bay Area Awards; no one was omitted.
The nominations are for Outstanding Production of a Musical, Choreography (Noah Haydon and Bonnie Suval), Musical Direction (Scrumbly Koldewyn), Costumes (Bill Bowers, Flynn DeMarco, Dwight Overton, Tina Sogliuzzo), Female Actor in a Featured Role (Roxanne RedMeat), Male Actor in a Featured Role (John Flaw and Earl Alfred Paus), two nods for Russell Blackwood for Direction and Male Actor in a Principal Role and a nomination for the entire Ensemble (The full cast!).
The most recent event was a tribute to the Cockettes at the de Young Museum on September 19th. The Thrillpeddlers and several Cockettes sang a number of original songs that had been reprised at the Hypnodrome. David Weissman, co-director with Bill Weber, of The Cockettes documentary was on hand to show clips at the Koret as well as the 1971 Cockette film Tricia’s Wedding followed by a Shanghai medley at the piano.