San Francisco's Thrillpeddlers deals twice the ‘Vice’ 

No sooner do the Grand Guignol masters at Thrillpeddlers close their record-breaking 22-month run of “Pearls Over Shanghai” than they check into the palace. Technically that’s the “Vice Palace: The Last Cockettes Musical,” which opens this week and runs through July.

If you weren’t in the Haight for the Summer of Love, or if you haven’t seen San Francisco filmmaker David Weissman’s excellent 2002 documentary on them, you should know The Cockettes were a hippie, drag performance troupe.

The rag-tag band rose to brief-but-fierce popularity in the late 1960s and disbanded in 1972. Alumni include the late disco diva Sylvester and the very active Scrumbly Koldewyn, who is thoroughly enjoying the renaissance of Cockettes shows at the Hypnodrome theater.

“The people involved with Thrillpeddlers really get it. It’s more polished, but the fun isn’t polished out of it,” he says, referring to the extremely ad hoc approach taken to the original shows. “It was a lot of fun doing The Cockettes, but there were reasons why it only lasted a couple of years.”

A classically trained musician, Koldewyn expected to be a “serious composer like Benjamin Britton” before hooking up with The Cockettes. “It was a tremendous relief for me to just have fun with melodies. That sense of devil-may-care came up with some quirky, fresh material.”

Born on the heels of World War II, Koldewyn — his birth name is Richard, while Scrumbly is a nickname bestowed by some Alaskan friends — has been musically active locally for more than four decades.

Subsequent to The Cockettes, he founded the new-wave a cappella group the Distractions and then helped found the vocal trio the Jesters.

Written as a vehicle for John Waters luminaries Divine and Mink Stole, “Vice Palace” was scored by Koldewyn to a book by Martin Worman, and was something of a coda for the group.

“The Cockettes had officially performed their last show earlier that year,” Koldewyn says, “but there just had to be something at the Palace for Halloween. It was the same the following year.”

The show is loosely based on Edgar Allen Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death,” and Koldewyn has made some changes for the new production.

“It’s basically a revue,” he says. “Back then we interpolated a lot of songs that were not original, so I’ve now written about eight new songs to replace them.

“There’s a lot of decadence and thrills,” he says. “It is Thrillpeddlers, after all!”



Vice Palace

Presented by Thrillpeddlers

Where: Hypnodrome, 575 10th St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; closes July 31

Tickets: $20 to $35

Contact: (800) 838-3006,

About The Author

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol is the editor at BAYSTAGES, the creative director at VIA MEDIA, and a lifelong arts supporter. Diva wrangler, cinefiler, and occasional saloon singer, he has been touching showbiz all his life. (So far no restraining orders have been issued!)... more
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