Acrobats take over Club Fugazi with vigor, grace and glee

Club Fugazi is back – filled with nine sexy acrobats who plunge through hoops, slide off poles, stand on top of each other, bounce off a teeter-totter and, as the name of their show implies, soar through the air.

In “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story,” The 7 Fingers plays Canadian contemporary circus troupe at the North Beach theater where “Beach Blanket Babylon” delighted audiences for decades with wacky songs and huge headgear until it closed in 2019.

Hats are also on this show, deftly juggling a segment set in the Mission of Enmeng Song, a performer who was also stunned at handling a Chinese yo-yo called diabolo, sharing a fun anecdote about wanting to move to a warm place, only to find , he said: “This city is cold.”

Enmeng Song does cool tricks with a Chinese yo-yo named diabolo in ‘Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story’. (Courtesy of Kevin Berne)

And though the costumes (by Keiko Carreiro) in black, white, and gray allude to our ever-present fog, “Dear San Francisco” — the brainchild of circus professionals Gypsy Snider and Shana Carroll of Pickle Family Circus fame in San Francisco, home after a stint in Montreal – bursting with warmth in this love letter to their city. But it’s also cool.

Years in the making, it opened Tuesday to friends and dignitaries, including Mayor London Breed (sassily mentioned she checked with public health that it was okay not to wear a mask during her opening remarks) and Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district also includes North Beach. He called the evening a “dream come true” after the show ended, awarding an honorary title to the cast and creators.

Other famous names also flowed. Performers read love notes to The City from famous people, including former Giants rightfielder Hunter Pence (“You accepted me before I accepted myself”) and theater producer Jon Moscone (“I try, I can’t leave you”) after an opening film showed historic images of horse-and-buggies driving down Market Street and of the great earthquake of 1906.

Still, the stunts prevailed. Some kites on a trapeze caught performers being thrown into the air by acrobats on the ground; a fellow on a unicycle brought his bicycle into the house and rode past a long, narrow table; the acrobats maneuvered in and around an old phone booth.

The best were the acts with the entire agile cast: Isabella Diaz, Melvin Diggs, Devin Henderson, Ruben Ingwersen, Kalani June, Jérémi Levesque, Natasha Patterson, the aforementioned Song (who introduced from the audience Master Lu Yi, former artistic director of China’s Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe and beloved teacher and mentor of many 7 Fingers artists), and Junru Wang.

After the candies were handed out and the people in the audience were told to unwrap them and eat the “treat they deserve”, fire caught on as the athletes worked on two Chinese poles: they ran, twirled around and slid down, even with their heads forward, to throbbing notes of The Doors’ “Break on Through (to the Other Side).” Wild!

In an equally exciting hoop-diving segment with the entire ensemble, the performers recited works by Beat poets Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Hirschman, and others involved in groovy jazz of the era. (It was hard to catch every word, though; the sound could have been sharpened.)

The cast of 'Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story' delivers a stellar performance on the new show at Club Fugazi.  (Courtesy of Kevin Berne)

The cast of “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story” puts on a great performance on the new show at Club Fugazi. (Courtesy of Kevin Berne)

Dialogue from “The Maltese Falcon” with Humphrey Bogart accompanied a smooth juggling duo that finesse, toss, and balance gleaming orbs the size of footballs; and two flying men leaped and somersaulted on a shaky plank amid lightning and thunder.

The breathtaking finale saw the strong and graceful Wang do the seemingly impossible, balancing on one or both hands, sitting on a pole in the air, while a haunting bittersweet piano melody filled the air and her countrymen showered her with words and water, in that touching way Cirque du Soleil enchants when it’s right.

Before the epilogue, there was a therapeutic, lively group singing “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” with troupers entering the house to offer flowers to some customers; I took home a stem with bright yellow petals.

As the mayor predicted in her speech at the beginning, the 90-minute show captured the spirit and resilience of San Francisco. The perfect tonic for recovery during this world-changing pandemic, “Dear San Francisco” also offers a rare opportunity, said general manager Eric Eislund, for the public to get an up-close look at world-class acrobats in a small, intimate venue.

Club Fugazi is back, indeed!

IF YOU GO

Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story

True: Club Fugazi, 678 Green St., SF

When: 7:30 pm Wednesday-Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays; 2 pm and 6 pm on Sundays

Tickets: $35 to $89

Contact: clubfugazisf.com

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