Babylon Gone 2: "Let No Stranger Wait Outside Your Door"
Welcome to a special San Francisco Chronicle. Datebook podcast stay tuned after for a message from our sponsor the San Francisco symphony to from our nine. Oh one mission street studios you are listening to the San Francisco Chronicle check one. Check one to ten fifteen minute. Recall fifteen minutes until showtime fifteen minute. Call wow I mean you know. People used to people used to say you come to San Francisco and you go take a cable car. Go to the wharf and get a loaf of French. Breads and you'd come to see. was that although she mentioned all in the same breath com. You're listening to the deep book podcast and this is part two. You Babylon gone our series about beach blanket Babylon the show is ending performances on New Year's Eve after forty five years. I'm any vein Stein fine. I'm Peter Hart Lob I'm Lily Janik and that was Steve Salvo. The show's trumpeter of thirty. Four years here is at stage manager. John Kim Johny on the first time he saw the show at the Savoy to volley a San Francisco bar in one thousand nine hundred seventy four but a bunch of my friends said. Hey we're gonNA see Wacko show. No that's at the Savoy and North Beach when you come along so I did. And at that time I thought it was a bunch of wackos jumping up down and thrown into each other and singing stupid songs. Don Things on their head and I was right in San Francisco one of our biggest struggles and sitting down to record. This podcast was thinking about how we were going to describe beach blanket. Babylon it's silliness that sense of chaos but but also the professionalism and talent of its artists and crew within that chaos. It's Camaraderie so we talked to John. The stage manager WHO's the company's is longest serving employees. He is nearly forty one years at beach blanket under his belt. He retired shortly before the show announced it was closing but then came back back from retirement to stage manage the show until it closed. Anyway we were sitting with him and club through Ghazi a couple of hours before a performance and we were struck by his ability to encapsulate. What beach blanket is all about in a single? The show must go on story. It takes place just a year into his tenure and I was backstage pulling flats with my assistant on stage left and I was on stage right. We opened the flats. She went out on stage and started singing the song and as we close the flats behind her one of them jumped off the track that it's on I had and I thought this is going to be a nightmare but I don't get in fixed so I said to. My assistant grabbed a ladder out of the bathroom and bring it here. We have to fix this before she exits and only had like two or three minutes worth of the song and in May be a little bit of dialogue before I would have to open it and it wouldn't open if it's not on the track because it was it was jammed. You know kind of at an awkward angle so John fell from the ladder and dislocated his kneecap but he didn't know what his injury was at the time I said I think I broke my leg. I I can't I can't fix this so shelly work One of the actresses grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and told me through the the back Scenery and I said and you got to open this flat. I don't care what you do you got over the flat because Elizabeth is gonNA run into. It was her big fat hat on and so I was lying on the floor. Backstage calling out the Q. I counted it out three to one pull. They opened the flat and she came off and then they close the flat behind her and then they opened the back flat and I was still lying there on the floor so they got Elizabeth out safely but there is still the trouble of what to do with John Lying there on the floor making looking back and I told them when they call the paramedics. Don't bring them through the theater because that's going to free people out bring him through the basement and they can come up the backstairs so they did that. That's in Moscow. Show must go on God and I did want to die on my on my watch and then the paramedic said they couldn't get John Out of the backstage door on their own. They still wanted to go through the audience. John said no way so they called the Fire Department. which is about two blocks away so we had four four firemen and paramedics and as they started carrying me down the stairs Six tap dancing. Miss piggies came dancing. offstage ah just visualize that and I said wow this is just a very beach blanket moment and and it was and so they look like they were part of the show Pretty much who say they weren't too everyone's favorite theater story. sub-genre is a the show must go on story. Are you kidding I got a I got a million of them. That's Rene Lubin. The show's longest serving performer. She's he's remembering a performance from before Snow White was in the show. Unlike our last one this features John the stage manager and the ladder back then. We had dorothy instead of Snow White. This is going way back. Yeah we're going back a few years and she was flying on the FEU and as S.. She came over the is that she came back. She got she got stuck and she's was Sushi was on the rope waving waving at people took forever so finally John had to make an announcement said due to due to things beyond our control. We're going to have to Blah Blah Blah. Whatever it is so he he comes out? He gets out the ladder. The audience is clapping and laughing the whole time. She's dangling by a string he goes up the ladder and gets her down and brings her down and the audience just gives him a standing ovation. Gratien must go and then after that the show went on And this whole zany energy. This whole crazy atmosphere came from the one of a kind brain of Steve Steve Silver. The show's creator. Silver already had a company called Rent Freak. Where you could hire people in ridiculous costumes on say roller skates to show up to your parties? One night in nineteen seventy-three handsome friends were out to dinner on union street and they spontaneously started singing along with a street musician. Drying crowd Stephen is crew ran back to his place to grab the rent of free costumes that night he wrote their first show show in a VW van on the way back in thirty minutes of performing on the street they made twenty dollars. That came back the next night and made eighty five eventually. The street crowd got so big that they had to bring the show inside and the rest is history. Steve died of complications related to AIDS in nineteen eighteen ninety five but his vision continues to shape the show. That's due to the leadership of Jo Schuman. Silver Steve Silver's widow in almost twenty five years that she's run the show after his death. She's been firm about not deviating from his vision. His vision was electric in our interviews. CAST members and crew uh-huh described Steve as a whirling dervish and a man with a cartoon brain. Here's Rene on the experience of auditioning for Steve Back in the eighties. I just know that. Back then Steve entertained. All types of acts people came with pets. People came on skates. There were just some strange things. I remember an audition where there was a guy skating across this stage and I was watching like is he. I do but I mean it was a wacky show Zany. So you'd never know. I mean who would know that years later. I was in the show and we had two girls all skates there. You go that playing Nancy Kerrigan and and you know the whole bit with the the whole Fight Packs Tonya harding. Yeah Tonya harding. So you never know you never know you know everyone running around like a chicken with the head coach. Pretty Frenetic backstage. I mean you've got Steve Given and Dialogue changes to the girls in between shows and they're readjusting their makeup with dialogue taped to the mirror as they're trying to to reapply makeup and they've got new lives going in we got another solo going in and another Existing solar is going to go up or down a half step or a third or whatever her so it was It was crazy. So you had to have Steve's Steve Silver's concept which was to give performers a platform to do what they loved In a manner that that was whacky and slightly off which was San Francisco. Don't fast soon. There was a time. What if you were a celebrity? You saw beach blanket and not just if you were already in San Francisco famous people flew up from La and beyond just to see the show you had people like Jimmy Stewart. Clint Eastwood Tony Bennett. Beverly Sills I could go I could just recite for twenty minutes on the names of people that came Camilla and Charles Dr Ruth Westheimer and Larry Hagman and his mother Mary Martin. And I'm my favorite Sidney Poitier Sydney Potier came to the show and watched did and I was really impressed with him because he came backstage and part of my job when we have a VIP backstage. I stand up the door and welcome them. When I say Mr Poitier I welcome to the beach? Hope you enjoyed the show. And he looked me in the eye. Look me in the. I shook my hand and said John that was a great show. I had a really good time and I mean just the recognition you know because a lot of the VIP's are you know they want to go back there and talk to the cast and that's fine you know if they're if there are an actor. That's you know that's their connection. But just the fact that he took the time to to stop at the door and say I had a really great time and you know okay look me in the eye. It was kind of like I feel special. Sta Please don't more of Babylon gone is coming up and stay tuned after today's show for a message from our sponsor the San Francisco symphony but some of the most meaningful connections made it beach blanket over the years have had nothing to do with Hollywood stars. Steve Salga met his wife Val diamond at the show. It's been ten years since diamond known for her powerful voice. Charismatic stage presence left the show but she remains its best known performer. Diamonds been succeeded by the hilarious. Tammy Nelson who recently celebrated her twenty fifth anniversary with the show. And then there's Rene who had a very unique method of getting the attention of potential suitors. Here's how she met her now. Husband of twenty seven years back in Saturday. I was a fine little thing so you still are at thank you so back in the day. When I was single I used to see gentlemen in the audience and I if I saw them before the show is the note and we used to have a Next door used to be an old Italian Italian restaurant called caps. That was another historic place. That's no longer here and I used to always say If you'd like to join this Lubin for a drink after the show meet caps. You're like a movie star. They were always. Is there girl always there so this one time I was on stage but I missed it I came on stage and I saw. There's a nice looking guy out. There wonder he looks like a teddy bear. I wonder if he's as Nice as he looks. And I. I thought I'd never meet him. Step down under the awning and WHO's coming down the group ten coming down the street but that group with the Teddy Bear that I just saw an audience and they said Hey. Hey we saw the show Coming have a drink with us and I was like well. I'll go with him but I'm not going to have another drink so I sat there and before the evening was over found out that He was new to the area and the group that he was with. That was his team. He was there Boston he invited me. They said well. We'll see the rest is history. So what did you like about the theater world. I think the the fact that that everybody is accepted for who they are. And I think that was a big thing to me that The people could be whoever they really really are in real life and then they could do these different characters and they're accepted by everybody and I think that's I think that's a big thing. Theater is life. You know We we you we mirror life images and I think people who are in the theater Know that and they that's how they get along with everybody not everybody gets along. You know it's it's just the basic principle That theater is life and everybody is accepted there and I like that. It was awful to have to ask these cast and crew members about their thoughts on saying goodbye to the show their ideas on. What's next in their careers? Santuary already has another Gig. He Left Beach. Blanket to design wigs for Harry Potter Curse of child at the current. There were times asking these questions when I could feel these folks if not getting defensive or bristling exactly than maybe leaning back a little and rightfully so because since it's speech blanket I'm not just asking them about their professional lives and asking them about their homes. uh-huh their families. Here's Steve Salga reminiscent. On the night he found out the show was closing. They still had to perform a show that night. I give the cash an enormous amount of credit for that show that night because it took reach down deep like you said to pull that off. I mean you know it was a meeting. We had to go out get a cup of coffee. Collect our thoughts. Come back and put the show on at night and it was probably one of the more difficult chose goes to to play. I would say playing playing the show after Steve died was the most difficult show for me but it was. You know those those moments are you know life's moments and show you just have to Kinda whether whether it and make the best. We were all surprised that was that that was a surprise. That wasn't something anybody you know ever projected or or even thought about. I mean even if even if numbers were low it wasn't something that was even fathomable. Hello this show would ever close so I tell my musician friends you know cause we the show every night in San Francisco and this you you know. It's the key of D same key so I joke with my friends and they say you WanNa make me cry and have a meltdown. I play San Francisco Kid for over twelve thousand performances asked me to plan a different key and will probably might be start weeping and breaking down I I can do it. But that's my attempted a feeble joke. You know there's you just get used to play the same stuff sad. I don't know what to say just said I can't even imagine i. I think the sad part to me is that there are people who still have never seen the show. And that's sad that's sad they'll never be anything like it ever album depot. PODCAST is produced by Peter. Hart La Lily Janik and Anne Vane Stein supervising producers are King Kaufman Kitty. Morgan and Tim. O. Rourke our editor in chief is Audrey. Cooper Music is courtesy beach blanket Babylon and we also played shades AIDS at Spring by Kevin. mccloud if you enjoyed this podcast support our work and subscribe at. WWW DOT SF chronicle dot com. Where you you can read more beach blanket Babylon stories and columns and now here's a program from our sponsor the San Francisco Symphony? Hello I'm cherise Morrison and I'd like to welcome nick. Play Talk to our holiday breasts podcast sponsored by the San Francisco Symphony. So Nick what what are some of the most iconic holiday brass songs to play well. I'm a huge fan of the Classic Leroy Anderson Song Sleigh ride as a brass ask player and especially as like a a classical musician. I've played many Christmas concerts every year since I started playing the trombone and almost all of them have included. sleigh ride sleigh ride as I think sometimes a bit of a controversial topic In that some people you know some people don't love Christmas music. I'm not one of those. People have really love of Christmas music. That sounds amazing. So do you just play sleigh. Ride to get prepared for the season or are your neighbors hearing it like year round. I'm practicing sleigh ride every single day. Not Not actually just for the brass concert. I think there's too much music to play the rest of the year and then you guys also have a percussion and I remember. I played played sleigh. Ride once and I remember the Santa's Sleigh like the slap like the whip. That's what the name officially the whip. Another piece that I'm really looking forward to on this on. This concert is Arrangement that our principal trombone Tim Higgins just made of the Duke Doc. Ellington version of Tchaikovsky's nutcracker suite the Nutcracker by checkoffs super famous ballet classic holiday hit everybody loves it And there's a really fantastic Duke Ellington Big Band Jazz. Big Man at station of it and Tim made it really cool arrangement minute of this for our brass section So we won't have saxophone. We'll have French horns and trumpets and trombones and we'll have our principal basis Scott Pingel and our principal percussionist. Jake Nestle on that and you know we'll be blowing some improvised solos and swing and real hard. That is like I love love Sleigh ride and I I really love everything. Christmas music like every genre of Christmas music I absolutely love but like jazzy. Big Band Christmas is one of my favorite things to so. That's that's GonNa be really really really fun. I'm looking forward to that one a lot. Absolutely I after you said. There's a new arrangement. I got really excited ascended about that. I'm so this'll be the first time that it's performed. This'll be the world world premiere performance of that arrangement. That is so cool. I wish that we could play it. Now we'll play the original and then we'll say imagine this but even better yes but even more arranged yes awesome okay. Why do you think holiday? Brass comes back year after year. And we all love it so much It's basically I would say like a staple like Santa or Christmas tree me. I mean I'm biased as brass player. But I think that there's there's like a lot of different genres of Christmas music and like we do a lot of them at the symphony any like. We're doing handel's Messiah. We did the past couple of nights Like a Gospel Christmas concert with this Amazing Gospel Choir. The Oakland Interfaith Gospel aspel choir and Brian McKnight. And we're also GONNA play love actually with the film and there's like all and then there's the nutcracker and then there's the Ellington Nutcracker there's like Charlie Brown Christmas there's all these different sectors of of Christmas music and Christmas culture and I think that while brass music is as its own sector of music period. We kind of like really come out to play around Christmas. There's something about brass instruments playing Christmas carols. That just feels really right. If you haven't heard brass ensemble before it is a really marvelous. Sound it's warm and bright and shining running and I think it's really. It's really beautiful. There's a lot of variety in the show like older classical music like Baroque music. Chorale that were playing. Sounds really just absolutely stunning. There are moments of incredible beauty in in this concert. That made me feel like there's like fireplace Christmas and I think we're going to get that in corral and then there's also you know the Joan Tower fanfare for the uncommon woman which is like bombastic sound like you know glorious militaristic fanfare like pay attention to this. That's something the brass can do but jazzy Christmas is also something that holiday brass can do and anybody can make Christmas. I missed music. There are a lot of like special things about brass playing Christmas music. I just I really love it. It's really one of my favorite things to do as a trumpet player. Is this concert. So you have a lot of different kinds of mashups from old to new Christmas music and Different ways that brass gets involved. uh-huh tell us how maybe someone who doesn't know a lot about all the going on site inside a brass ensemble. How do we tell the difference between the instruments? I think that the brass instruments are pretty easy to tell apart. There aren't that many of them. We'll just start from from the low. The Big One is The big daddy of the brass brass section is the Tuba. You'll definitely know the Tuba. The next biggest is the trombone. And that is you know. In my humble opinion the the greatest and within within the trombone Abon family there are a few other subcategories. There's the Bass trombone the tenor trombone. which is like what you think of? When you think trombone that's tenor trombone? The Bass trombone is like the big hairy. Older brother of the tenor trombone can play like low. Fat Low notes like this. And then there's the Alto trombone which People have to make jokes about like. Oh did you put your your trombone in the dryer because it looks like ten or trombone except it's a little bit smaller and it can play a little bit higher above the trombone. Is the French horn. 'cause there's lots of pipes in the French horn. Unlike French. Horn is actually a very very long instrument. But it's like all wrapped up And if you're thinking about what a Christmas tree ornament brass instrument would look like like. You're thinking French horn. Although my mother does have trombone ornament as well in case anybody cared about that I care about that cared about my mom's Christmas tree. Yes if she had just a French horn born and not a trombone. She wouldn't be very good mother. I don't think not at all. Yeah and not very Christmassy. No so that's that's the French Horn and then above. That is the trumpet. And you'll see a few different kinds of trumpets on this show on this show the they're sort of the normal sized trumpet and that's is L- either going to be a B. Flat or see trumpet meaning that the Fundamental Pitch of that instrument is a b flat Orsi and they'll be switching between those you'll also see flugel flugel horns which is like slightly wider bore like the pipes are a little bit wider. And it's more of an open smooth gentle sound sound like if a normal trumpet is debt than then AFL horn is more look really nice. Like if you think like kind of like Charlie Brown sector of Christmas like that's more of a flu horn color like a warm bath with some Lake Nice essential oils mixed. That's Flugel Horn and then there's the Piccolo trumpet in which is like a normal trumpet but smaller and higher and for Baroque music. So like the Corelli Our principal and associate principal trumpet the players Mark in a way and Erin Schuman will be playing roles as soloists on that on Piccolo trumpets. And that's more like like like that's more of a Piccolo trumpet sound and it's really spectacular. I mean everybody in the brass section is really supreme artists and I have a huge honor to work with them. And it's it's really great to see mark and Aaron Orrin featured as soloist in that Corelli and then how many different types of instruments maybe in the same kind of category is one person responsible for good question and trumpet. Players are going to be switching instruments a little bit more often like on on this one concert. You'll see any of our trumpet. Players playing be flattened seed trumpet but maybe also e flat or D. Trumpet as well as Piccolo Trumpet and Flute Horn then. Most of the time French horn players will play just the horn. Unless it's sort of a specialty thing in which case they might play a desk can't horn which is you know. It's still French horn. But it's pitched a little bit higher so like the pipes yes will be shorter and might be able to play high notes more easily with that within the trombone family. It's pretty customary for switch around a little bit and so tim will be playing. This is Tim Higgins our principal trombone player. We'll be playing some Alto trombone on this concert. And then Paul Welcome or another wonderful member of our trombone section. We'll be playing some euphonium which is an instrument. I forgot to mention a minute ago which is a member of the two family but is often performed by trombone players and it. It's just a small Tuba a small Tuba Small Tuba NBA loud. Yeah I still want to call it the baby to Buffalo. You can if you want to. Does anyone else call it. A baby to a A lot of people call it a baby Tuba. And what Paul all calls it and this is like Paul is hilarious. And he's one of my favorite people on Earth. He refers to it as the iron cello. Yeah I'm sure the string players appreciate that Fisher do do you. Sonja is I would say like the Awkward Band Geek of of the brass family and really of of music period. People Make Fun of the phone him a lot and it's really satisfying to make fun of the volume and people who play it a tiny tuba a tiny tube exactly at jumbo shrimp And then you're the trombone so you're kind of middle of the pack medium. Yeah right on the lower end. We're we're in low brass but yeah like if you're talking about like Soprano Alto tenor and bass like we're in the tenor family. I would say well we would love to hear you play so if you wouldn't mind signed dazzling us with some of your skills and your music we would love. That would be happy to Law A- Ah