Article by Greg Cutler
Photos by Jon Bauer
I am writing this review while the event is still going on (June 23, 2017). My overall review is that you should definitely go see it! (June 30 and July 1, 2017)
First of all, I’m impressed with how many people got dressed up in period costume for this event. Well done. I don’t have 1800’s clothes, but I wore a tuxedo with a long coat and a nice black and white striped tie. You don’t have to get up in your getup, but it was nice that there were many people who did. I will admit, that now, I want an 1800’s outfit for sure. [Historical Emporium]
I have a car and I drove myself to the event. Traffic getting from San Francisco to Alameda was minimal. It took me 35 minutes. There is a HUGE parking lot right in front of the tent. You will see the tent. It is also huge.
The location is not the greatest. I think if it had been in Golden Gate Park or something a little less influenced by the 20th century, it may have leant more to the illusion. Those Naval airstrips were not there in the 1800’s. They are old, but they’re not that old. The old saloon outside is a nice touch. If they had come out to serve us drinks in it, that would have been superb. I’m sure that is because of liquor laws or some other city ordinance. I sat on a chair on the porch when I arrived and talked to some very nice guests. Everyone was in the mood to see an interesting show, that is not in dispute. The anticipation was palpable. We had no idea what to expect. I actually expected it to suck. Boy, was I wrong!
The tent is impressive. I have no idea how tall it is, but it is tall. There is a whole world inside. Around the inner walls are art galleries with fantastic painting and photography for sale. There are little seating areas where one may lounge. The bar is located back there as well. Clockwise from the entrance was a platform with a bandstand, the stage, and a building with doors along the top floor that made up the brothel known as The Soiled Dove.
The first band, Cosa Nostra, plays on the stage until people get their drinks from the bar in the back and get settled into their seats. You can choose to sit anywhere and the servers help you find a good spot. The servers are also the performers and they are all in character.
The next band, Jazz Mafia is phenomenal. I appreciate good jazz and those guys are tight as a tick. And I mean that in a good way. If you believe Jelly Roll Morton who is quoted as the inventor of Jazz in 1902, the periodness is sort of weird at first, but you get over it. The original score to the entire show lends itself to jazz and jazz is related to Dixieland and Dixieland is related to Ragtime and Ragtime was definitely a thing during the Gold Rush, so let’s let it slide for the sake of a really entertaining and rollicking good time. The Lady Gaga, Bad Romance cover was very Westworld-esc. I’m not sure, but I think I was actually craving some actual ragtime. A creative interpretation of the Entertainer might not have hurt. The keyboardist could definitely handle that.
The circus-type acts in the show are like watching America’s Got Talent on Steroids, with a San Francisco Gold Rush theme IN San Francisco. Sorry, Simon. Maybe if you see AGT in person, it makes all the difference. At The Soiled Dove, watching someone fall from 100 feet above your head, end-over-end, suspended only by a piece of fabric is much more impressive in person than it is watching it on TV in the comfort of your living room. If they go “splat”, they will do it live in front of you. And they perform all around you. They are not just on the stage. They are on the sides and suspended in the air. Events take place at the bar behind you. Cowboy Girl the sharpshooter deserves a special mention, as do all the people she shot at (or at balloons that were in close proximity).
If I had not been sitting at the table, I would have missed out on the meal. And oh, what a meal it was. I’m a carnivore, so I had the beef. Emma Nation (get it?) comes out and describes each course in the dinner is not joking around when she describes how they must have cooked that meat for a very long time, because it was delicious. The salad and desert were excellent as well. Work of Art catering did an amazing job.
Monarch did an excellent job of keeping bar. At these types of events, the bar is pretty crucial. The drinks are pre-mixed by the bar and they are all fantastic. I sampled a few. They have beer too, of which I did not partake.
I won’t go into too much detail on the acts. I already talked about the band; phenomenal. The acrobats were amazing. The synchronicity between the dancers, acrobats, and aerialists was perfection itself. The strength, poise, grace, beauty, musicality, and shear athleticism of the aerialists and dancers was a sight to behold; male or female. As they spun above my head, the aerialists looked like they were having the time of their lives and it was infectious. They looked as if they would sprout wings and fly right out of the tent.
I would not want to mess with any of the women on that stage. They are strong!
Oh, and Mz. K. That’s all I gotta say. You have to go see her for yourself to know what I’m talking about.
The costumes are incredible. And there are so many costumes! If you like period costumes, that alone is a reason to go see The Soiled Dove. The sets are also amazing, solid, and accurate to the period.
The actors are always in character. Both Happy Jack (the first main character) and Vegas Trip (the main EmCee) do an excellent job of narrating and keeping the story moving along. Happy Jack is apparently based on a historical figure from the Barbary Coast; Happy Jack Harrington. Pretty much everything that happens to him in the show happened in real life, so pay attention.
All of the actors’ banter (written and improvised) was on constant display. The show is also musical and the actors can also sing. Every little micro-interaction (and they are going on all around, all the time) is captivating. So much fun to watch!
With any live performance, something always goes wrong. Katy Stephan’s microphone didn’t work at first, but the excellent crew resolved it in a matter of minutes and she carried on. I will say that Katy’s piano could have been mic’ed. It was a little hard to hear. Ahhh… Mz. K.
Speaking of Mz K, I was curious how, in this day and age, they would handle the debauchery. There was nothing weird or awkward about any of it. The people performing are beautiful (as I have already said), but they are real. They are right there in front of you. You can talk to them. If you want to eat or drink, you HAVE to talk to them. They are not objects. And they are talented. So the audience expressed such a high level of respect toward the performers that obliterated any weird creepy feelings that may otherwise have been exhibited. It was fun! Go see it!