Beach Blanket Babylon, World’s Longest Musical Revue, Ends

After 45 years, the historic San Francisco music extravaganza is coming to a close.

Beach Blanket Babylon is singing its swan song as 2019 comes to a close.

The world’s longest running musical revue, located in North Beach on Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard, is known for its quick spins on pop culture and politics, its crew of powerful singers, and of course, its outrageously extravagant hats. It’s quirky and ridiculous, with barely a plot but a whole lot of entertainment. But earlier this year, the 45-year-old show said 2019 would be its last hurrah.

It’s final performances will be on New Year’s Eve. All remaining shows are currently sold out, per Beach Blanket Babylon’s website.

The reasons for the show ending weren’t financial, as tends to be the case in San Francisco. Producer Jo Schuman Silver simply didn’t want the show to continue under another producer. Schuman Silver took over after her husband Steve Silver — the original producer of Beach Blanket Babylon — died in 1995 of AIDS. Since then, she’s been carrying on the show, bringing Silver’s eccentric vision to life, night after night.

“She wanted to close it out while we were on top,” John Camajani, stage manager of Beach Blanket Babylon, says. Camajani has been working with the show for 40 years — over half of his life, he says. (Camajani turned 70 this year.) Since 1979, he’s watched the show grow and change — and it’s changed a lot. If you caught a production in January, it might not be the same as the one you’ll see in March. 

That’s part of the appeal of Beach Blanket Babylon, and one of the reasons why it’s managed to keep such a strong, consistently ongoing audience. The show changes with the world. If Schuman Silver sees something interesting on the news in the morning that she wants in her show, she can just call the artistic director, and the crew will make it work.

“We can have it costumed, lighted, propped, and hatted by that afternoon,” Camajani says. “And it’s in that show that night. And 99 percent of the time it works.”

In the version of Beach Blanket Babylon that I saw, characters like Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Vladimir Putin, Tina Fey, Mary Poppins, Michelle Obama, Elvis, some dancing Christmas trees, a poodle, etc… took the stage, along with the star, Snow White, who has remained a constant in the show for about four decades. Snow White is on a journey to find her prince, and along the way, she meets all sorts of people, satirized from politics and pop culture.

“We like to say we don’t make fun of but we have fun with,” Camajani says. “We don’t like to point fingers at anybody more than that they’ve already done for themselves.”

Camajani believes Beach Blanket Babylon is regarded as one of the icons of San Francisco — as part of the city landscape like Coit Tower, or the Golden Gate Bridge. Its last performance will be on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s going to be a cold lonely neighborhood when Beach Blanket finally leaves,” Camajani says. “We’re all sad about it.”

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