Fun and frustration found in updated ‘SF Follies’ 

The 2011 “SF Follies” — version 2.0, if you will — is as fun, and as frustrating, as its predecessor.

The original wacky, irreverent musical revue, which played in a smallish Union Square area theater for a few months in 2009, is back in an updated presentation onstage in the sizable theater at Pier 39.

Many of the same moments of inspired lunacy remain, like the maniacal sea lion and the crazed combination of ubiquitous movie critic Jan Wahl and historic Playland character Laughing Sal.

Creator John Bisceglie has indicated the show isn’t necessarily competing with The City’s higher-rent granddaddy of the genre, “Beach Blanket Babylon,” yet his “Follies” have glittering costumes and famous tunes with lyrics switched out to funny local effect.

Wonderfully, the show’s “hit list” still dares to denigrate San Francisco sacred cows such as the Exploratorium, Coit Tower,  Alcatraz and Father Junipero Serra.

Yet it’s only partly effective in its ambitious undertaking, offering up The City’s long and colorful history via silly song and dance, with an inconsistent pace throughout. Takes on historical eras, from American Indians to the Gold Rush to the 1906 quake, seem perfunctory next to the higher-octane material covering more contemporary times.

Among the effervescent ensemble, Brett Hammon again stands out as a slick Gavin Newsom, singing an altered version “Popular” from “Wicked,” in an easy update that reflects his current lieutenant governor status. Unsurprisingly, Mayor Ed Lee gets one throwaway line to the effect: “Who’s he?”

The best new number with the lyrics “Tax that cannabis” features Tom Ammiano pushing legalizing marijuana and one of the show’s more hilarious props — a retail display of baggies of Kirkland brand pot.

As before, the show’s best moments feature Midwesterners new in town attempting to buy a house, navigating neighborhoods and crazy real estate prices.

Still, there are some big misses.

The depictions of Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi coming to power in politics falls flat. Feinstein wears a big caftan, while her cohorts have huge, teased hair, wear skimpy hot pants and dance to 1980s music — it simply doesn’t make sense.

A too-long interlude about Harvey Milk also doesn’t work in that it’s a loving tribute to, rather than fun takedown of, the groundbreaking gay leader.

A slightly expanded “Summer of Love” sequence doesn’t go far enough, and the same is the case for material covering the currently newsworthy Giants. One gets the feeling that Bisceglie is more of a musical theater than baseball fan — a bit about the Shorenstein Hays’ Best of Broadway series seemingly runs longer than one about The City’s juicy world champions, with just a minimal Brian Wilson beard joke and mention of steroids.

lkatz@sfexaminer.com

THEATER REVIEW

SF Follies


Where: Theatre 39, Pier 39, Beach Street and the Embarcadero, San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes June 5

Tickets: $35

Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.sffollies.com

About The Author

Leslie Katz

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