From Schwarzenegger to Trump, Beach Blanket Babylon Has Stayed on Top of Headlines for Nearly Half a Century

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The Von Trump Family in a Beach Blanket Babylon skit based on 'The Sound of Music'. L to R: Ryan Cowles, Rena Wilson, Lauren Howard-Brintz, Kirk Mills, Darrin Glasser, and Lizzie Moss. (Courtesy of Rick Markovich, Beach Blanket Babylon)

Many people will remember "Beach Blanket Babylon," the iconic San Francisco cabaret that's closing after a 45-year run, for its peppy theme song, kitsch sense of humor and big, fantastical hats.

But the show's quick-witted reaction to the political zeitgeist has also left an indelible mark on audiences.

Producer Jo Schuman Silver says President Trump has provided the show's writers with a constant supply of material.

"I mean, it's like all Trump all the time," Schuman Silver said.

In the wake of the 2016 election, the "Beach Blanket Babylon" team fashioned a skit based on "The Sound of Music," starring the Von Trump Family in place of the Von Trapps.

As Melania Trump strums a guitar, the president and his children sing a skewed version of one of the musical's most beloved numbers, "Do-Re-Mi":

Dough: like cash, we got a lot
Ray: a drop of golden sun (Like daddy’s hair?)
Me: it’s all about myself
Far: a long, long way we’ve come
So: there’s nothing more to say
Laws: he’ll change them everyday.
T: for Trumps, we’re here to stay.
That will bring us tons of dough, dough, dough, dough.

More recently, Schuman Silver tweaked the show’s script to include lines about the Trump impeachment inquiry.

The campy "Beach Blanket Babylon" debuted in 1974, and is now the nation's longest continuously running musical revue. Its final performance is set for New Year's Eve.

"It's going to be so bittersweet," said Curt Branom, one of its longtime performers. "We're all moving on to other things, but we all know [what] a magical moment, really, in time that this place has been for all of us."

Take its ongoing response to news from the White House.
Schuman Silver took over producing "Beach Blanket" from her husband after he died of complications from AIDS in 1995. She says the revue is closing for creative rather than financial reasons.

"My late husband Steve Silver, whose show it is, said to me, you're going to know when it's the right time for the show to be done," she said. "I just never wanted the show to get old or not be fabulous and popular and on top."

Soon after she announced it was curtains earlier this year, the show sold out the rest of its run.

The show spoofs politics and pop culture and features performers in colorful costumes and massive hats, including one featuring San Francisco's entire skyline. It was originally scheduled to run for only six weeks, but word spread, and it quickly became a quintessential San Francisco experience.

"Beach Blanket Babylon" has since been performed more than 17,000 times in front of 6.5 million people, including Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, David Bowie and Robin Williams.

Renee Lubin (left) and Art Hervey (right) as Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas in Beach Blanket Babylon, 1991.
Renee Lubin (left) and Art Hervey (right) as Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas in Beach Blanket Babylon, 1991. (Courtesy of David Allen, Beach Blanket Babylon)

The production tries to maintain a politically agnostic stance. There have been skits over the years making fun of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

And regardless of who or what they are spoofing, the cast members seem to relish the opportunity to respond to the news.

Renee Lubin, "Beach Blanket’s" longest-serving cast member, who's been with the show for nearly 34 years, has a particularly fond memory of portraying Anita Hill.

"I got to drag Clarence Thomas all around the stage singing 'Respect.' That was a blast," Lubin said about jumping into the role when news broke in 1991 about Hill's sexual harassment allegations against the Supreme Court justice.

Actor Ben Jones appeared in "Beach Blanket" around the time of the 2008 presidential elections.

He played George W. Bush. Carrying a small suitcase on his way out of the White House, his character sang a doctored version of "One Day More," a famous number from the musical "Les Miserables."

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A few days more, and very soon I will be history
And now they’re starting to throw shoes at me
America: please hear my call
Cheney made me do it all.

Jones said it's not unusual show up at rehearsal to find the script for that evening’s performance in a state of flux. Cast members might be learning new lines right up to the moment they make their entrance through the sliding doors center stage.

"Sometimes there would be a new line taped to the back of the doors," Jones said. "So you'd be standing there and literally reading something and memorizing it, and then the doors would open."

Jones said between the hectic costume changes (most of the performers have at least 10 different outfits) and constantly changing script, it was sometimes hard to stay on top of things.

"There were times when you would go on stage with a wig half on," Jones said. "There might have been times when I went on stage without a wig on; without shoes on, certainly."

But the payoff of responding to the headlines almost as fast as they happen is often worth the moments of chaos.

Schuman Silver, a self-described "news junkie," happened to be watching "The Tonight Show" when Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his plans to run for California governor in August 2003.

Her mind immediately went back to a 1991 "Beach Blanket" skit based on Schwarzenegger’s "Terminator" movie franchise.

She sent one of her stage managers to search "Beach Blanket’s" cavernous warehouse.

"I just said, 'Please go to the warehouse and get the Arnold breastplate. Get the leather jacket and get the big pants,' " Schuman Silver said.

Doug Magpiong as Arnold Schwarzenegger in a 2003 performance of Beach Blanket
Doug Magpiong as Arnold Schwarzenegger in a 2003 performance of Beach Blanket. (Courtesy of Rick Markovich, Beach Blanket Babylon)

Schuman Silver said they had the story up on stage the very next day — as fast as it was carried by many pre-Internet era news outlets.

It took the form of a riff on Jerry Lee Lewis' rock classic, "Great Balls of Fire":

They work my nerves and they rattle my brain 
Those Democrats drive me insane
One thing is for sure, now I’m the governor
Goodness Gracious Arnold’s on fire.

Schuman Silver said public figures like Schwarzenegger and Trump always make a comeback in "Beach Blanket" sooner or later. The production's desire to respond quickly to the news throughout its entire 45-year history explains the the enormous size of the company's props and costumes warehouse.

"We never throw anything out," she added.

Additional reporting from the AP's Haven Daley