Visitors should understand that civic disdain for the epithet Frisco stretches back as far as 1872, when Joshua Abraham Norton, self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, issued a severe edict against the mindless utterance. This, newspapers dutifully printed. Which should lead to a second realization: San Franciscans take their self-appointed, slightly mad, utterly charming sovereigns very seriously, especially if they sport resplendent headwear. During his reign, Emperor Norton I a once bereft and bankrupt businessman adopted a beaverskin hat and a peacock feather as a crown, printed his own currency, abolished Congress, and decreed a suspension bridge be built from Oakland to San Francisco. When Norton died in 1880, tens of thousands of devoted San Franciscans lined the streets to watch his coffin pass. 125 years later, the Board of Supervisors tried to name the new Bay Bridge expanse after him and his life was finally set to music. In Emperor Norton the Musical, the Barbary Coast is brought to life by singing hoodlums and dancing girls; Nortons canine retinue, Bummer and Lazarus, bemoan their life as royal rat-catchers; and the defender of the defenseless stands alone against an anti-Chinese mob, between proposals to the Queen of England and dedications by Mark Twain.
Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Starts: June 26. Continues through July 5, 2009