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‘Jewels of Paris’ revue in San Francisco is funny, campy, bawdy

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★½☆

In “Jewels of Paris” sketch, Andrew Darling plays Cupid (center) while Kim Larsen (left) and Lisa McHenry portray his “ordinary” God-parents, Jupiter and Venus. Photo by David Wilson.

A sex-tet performs a mock can-can in “Jewels of Paris.”

Steven Satyricon (left) and Andrew Darling perform a unique duet in “Jewels of Paris.” Photo by David Wilson.

Birdie-Bob Watt portrays the famed sad clown, Pierrot, in “Jewels of Paris.” Photo by David Wilson.

I left “Jewels of Paris” with lingering thoughts of flashy costuming and fleshy lack of costuming.

But that doesn’t mean I overlooked the new revue’s substantial, silly satire.

Or its clever songs. Or unadulterated bawdiness.

Or copious kitsch.

My afterthoughts insisted on zoning in on a couple of dangling participles and more than a few dangling body parts.

“Jewels of Paris,” a new musical revue presented by the Thrillpeddlers at the Hypnodrome in San Francisco, is clearly a throwback — first by comically reconstructing for me the City of Lights and the artistic revolution that exploded there in the Roaring Twenties, then by jerking me back to old-timey burlesque and shocking campus musicals.

Spoofed effectively along the way are Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Josephine Baker, Pierrot (the sad clown of Commedia dell’Arte fame) and — yes, after all it is France — Marie Antoinette.

Yet never would I think this revue might draw audiences from an umpteenth touring company of  “Chicago.”

It’s way too South of Market for that.

“Jewels of Paris” will surely pull in exactly what it aims for: mainly gay audiences (in and out of leather), and heterosexuals interested in a funny show that revisits the kind of original Scrumbly Koldewyn melodies he composed for the legendary Cockettes, the psychedelic, chiefly drag theater troupe he co-founded.

Here Koldewyn puts his fresh musical and lyrical jewels on display, so to speak.

As well as his talents as musical director and piano- and synthesizer-playing accompanist — all the while managing to keep the nostalgic jazzy rhythms alive without becoming overly redundant.

He also contributes to the book (sketches that are also credited to Rob Keefe, Alex Kinney and Andy Wenger).

Just for giggles, naturally.

Lyrics can be amazingly droll. Consider lines such as “They see me as savage and shoeless, but I’m just a flapper from St. Louis” or “Wait — I’ll torture you with my metaphors.”

Noah Haydon, meanwhile, is responsible for the choreography, ensuring each movement (ranging from a mock can-can to simulated sex) be precise enough so none of the 16-member cast (many of whom play multiple roles) stumbles into another on the small stage.

The campy revue’s so professionally staged on a set that’s seamlessly moved piecemeal by the actors undergoing myriad wig and costume changes, in fact, there’s not a single “oopsie” moment.

In addition, extraordinary solo performances are proffered by drag queen Noah Haydon torch-singing “Singer in a Café,” Kim Larsen crooning “Oh What a World,” and Birdie-Bob Watt lamenting “Chic and Tragic” as Pierrot.

Russell Blackwood, the production’s director, induces a well-paced balance between farce and music — and safeguards the overriding theme that human differences must be acceptable.

The ensemble cast raises diversity to new heights.

Actor-singers are white, black and Asian; male, female and possibly other; skinny and fat, tall and short, hunky and frumpy.

But don’t look for a plot. It’s absent.

And direct links to France tend to disappear during the second act of the two-hour performance.

Thrillpeddlers, their website informed me, “have been performing authentic Grand Guignol horror plays, outrageous Theatre of the Ridiculous musicals, and spine-tingling lights-out spookshows in San Francisco for nearly 20 years.”

Guess which of those categories “Jewels of Paris” fits into.

Here, however, is a mammoth red flag.

I recommend you stay far away if you’re turned off by nudity (male and female, frontal and backal), by straight and gay postures that don’t demand an advanced degree in gymnastics but do require open-mindedness, by cross-dressing and other gender-bending, by the mere idea of S&M, or ridiculing depictions of a bearded lady and a hunch-backed “Quasi-homo.”

If you’re adventurous, however, it’s a one-of-a-kind San Francisco treat that could tingle your pleasure palate vastly better than Rice-A-Roni.

Because the back-of-an-alley theater holds only 45 people, with first-come, first-served seating except for a handful of higher-priced boxes in which you can recline (or otherwise unbend), I’d recommended that tickets be purchased in advance.

My wife and I chanced to sit in the Hell box, with its fiery red seat covers and wall mirror at genitalia level.

Perhaps because we enjoy the unfamiliar and rare, it and the show were heavenly.

“Jewels of Paris” runs through May 2 at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St., San Francisco. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.  Tickets: $30-$35. Information: 1-415-377-4202 or

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