Thrillpeddlers bring back wackiness in the Orient, circa 1937 

click to enlarge Pearls Over Shanghai
  • Courtesy DAVID WILSON
  • Thrillpeddlers stages a fifth anniversary revival of the hit show “Pearls Over Shanghai,” a mock-operetta set in 1937.
Middle age looks just fine for the Cockettes — and it means just one thing: time to put on a show.

The latest incarnation of “Pearls Over Shanghai,” onstage in a Thrillpeddlers’ presentation at The Hypnodrome, marks the 45th anniversary of the formation of the gender-bending theatrical troupe that was born on New Year’s Eve in 1969.

Now the stuff of legend, “Pearls” was created by Link Martin (book and lyrics) and Scrumbly Koldewyn (music). Three original Cockettes and members of the first production — Koldewyn, “Sweet Pam” Tent and Rumi Missabu are appearing in this fifth resurrection of the popular production.

“‘Pearls’ worked so well over the course of the few years that we ran it [since 2009], it gave us a chance to really focus on the story and to look at what things we can do to strengthen that,” producer-director Russell Blackwood says. “I still love the fact that there’s a glitter and opulence element to it and that it goes to dizzying heights.”

The comic mock-operetta definitely is packed to the brim. More than 20 cast members (many in drag) and Koldewyn’s original score pepper the tale set in 1937 Shanghai. Featuring opium dens, singing sailors and slave-trade czars, the wild and playful story straddles good and evil.

Blackwood, like Koldewyn, also has become an iconic character in The City. He launched Thrillpeddlers with Daniel Zilber after producing and directing a Grand Guignol play 22 years ago that offered a savage take on an adaptation of the 1926 shocker “The Laboratory of Hallucinations.”

Since then, he has produced and directed Thrillpeddlers’ popular “Shocktoberfest!!,” an annual Halloween season horror spectacular.

Ten years ago, he opened The Hypnodrome as a home base for Thrillpeddlers and productions of four Cockettes musicals: “Pearls Over Shanghai,” “Hot Greeks,” “Vice Palace” and “Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma.”

For Blackwood, the fifth anniversary revival of “Pearls” is particularly poignant.

“This show really meant a lot to The Cockettes and to Scrumbly, who composed it,” he says. “So to be able to go back in and knock out some arrangements and add new songs, it’s truly felt like a fresh new process for us.”


Pearls Over Shanghai

Presented by Thrillpeddlers

Where: Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (near Bryant and Division streets), S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; closes May 31

Tickets: $30 to $35

Contact: (800) 838-3006,

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