Any Hollywood personality involved with the sleazy 1995 box office disaster Showgirls spent the rest of their career hoping the public would forget the existence of this film. But San Francisco drag deity Peaches Christ will never let anyone forget Showgirls, and she has lionized this specimen of cinematic trash every summer since 1998 in Saturday night screenings that have become high holy holidays on the Bay Area drag calendar.
This year’s incarnation of Peaches’ homage is Showgirls! The Musical!, which dispenses with the traditional screening of the film, presents the campy, cumming-of-age stripper story as a full-blown, live stage production. This musical keeps the original film’s relentless display of female nudity intact — it’s a 21 and over show — but embellishes Showgirls‘ dismal script with hilarious meta references and bawdy, off-color drag numbers that have all the grace and political correctness of a “That’s what she said” joke.
The mere concept of Showgirls! The Musical! is sort of a Snakes on a Plane proposition. (“You either want to see that, or you don’t,” as Samuel L. Jackson might say.) And plenty of bad movies get redone as campy musicals in the modern theatrical era. But Showgirls! The Musical! is able to achieve a special magic that no other bad movie musical could conjure, the combination of an audience that loves this particular bad movie so enthusiastically and the feeling of a high-water mark in Peaches Christ’s decades-long pursuit of increasingly larger-than-life ways to present Showgirls.
Showgirls! The Musical! is not brand-new; this production ran as a pretty well-acclaimed off-Broadway musical comedy in 2013. This version keeps the same script, music, and lyrics (by Bob and Tobly McSmith) and features several standout cast members from the New York production. But Peaches Christ directs this version herself, adding cake make-up portions of drag humor and a litany of zingers playing Gina Gershon’s role of Cristal Connors.
Everything about Showgirls! The Musical! is a giant, glorious inside joke for cult fans of the movie, and one needs to have seen that movie to get much of the humor. But this is not a line-for-line adaptation of Showgirls — and you do not shout out your favorite bits of atrocious dialogue. That’s because the script has been revised into something altogether different, a smart and zany update that satirizes the original movie’s relentless misogyny and general awfulness.
In the lead role of Nomi Malone, actual biological female April Kidwell gives a remarkably witty re-creation of Elizabeth Berkley’s shambolic performance from the original movie. Dressed in faithfully reproduced Showgirls wardrobe — with an amusing costume nod to Saved By The Bell — Kidwell captures Berkley’s full range of facial tics and exaggerates them to high hilarity. She’s got a sensational singing voice, a range of hysterical dance moves that you will so want to steal, and a transcendent comic charm that single-handedly cancels out the inherent sexism of the source material. Kidwell is such a phenomenal musical comedy talent that you’ll definitely see her again — but considering that her boobs are exposed in this show nearly as often as they’re covered, you won’t see this much of her again.
This production does struggle with the audible clarity of the lyrics, a shame because they’re so very, very funny. Some of this is the result of technical restraints, as the Victoria Theatre is a facility that opened during the Roosevelt administration. (The Theodore Roosevelt administration.) Still, you may feel frustrated that you’re missing bits of the barrage of pop culture jokes and references that make up the musical libretto.
But a few powerhouse comic performances in the supporting cast more than make up for that. Marcus Desion, a New York cast veteran, is riotously funny and musically masterful in dual drag and macho roles. Local boylesque personality Bobby Barnaby brings the house down in his turn as the gay-caricature choreographer in a number called “Thrust It.”
Showgirls! The Musical! is a massively entertaining validation for audiences who should know better than to love Showgirls but have for decades anyway. I laughed, I cried, I came in my pants. It’s a B-plus production of the B movie so bad it spawned decades of midnight movie screenings. For fans of Peaches Christ’s Showgirls screenings, this should be considered mandatory viewing.
Showgirls! The Musical! Through Aug. 27 at Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St., $32-$45, 415-863-7576 or peacheschrist.com.