'Cockettes: Res-Erection' - Oasis musical revue recalls famed queer theater troupe

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday March 14, 2023
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The cast of "Cockettes: Re-Erection" (photo: Dan Karkoska)
The cast of "Cockettes: Re-Erection" (photo: Dan Karkoska)

Oasis will come alive with the sound of The Cockettes on March 23-25. For those who may not know, The Cockettes were a queer theater troupe that performed in San Francisco from around 1969-1972. The Cockettes combined elements of drag, silent movies and musical theater to create shows that celebrated the then-burgeoning queer community and the sexual revolution.

Performers included gay disco legend Sylvester, and even Divine did a show. Their performances became events, playing to packed houses and attracting celebrities as fans. To this day, one of The Cockettes' most ardent admirers is filmmaker John Waters, the famed "trash" auteur.

The Oasis show, titled "Cockettes: Res-Erection," will be performed in the spirit of the original group. Local celebrities scheduled to appear include Steven Satyricon, Kitten on the Keys, Birdie-Bob Watt, Carl Linkhart, Matt Bratko, Bonni Suval and Scrumbly Koldewyn, who performed with the original Cockettes all those years ago. Kolewyn, now 77 years old, spoke to the Bay Area Reporter about why The Cockettes resonated so strongly with the public.

Original Cockette and composer Scrumbly Koldewyn with Birdie-Bob Watt (photo: Dan Karkoska)  

"Because we had the balls to mount that stage and flaunt ourselves as the free-form freaks we were, with no pretense to being unworthy or superior because of our lack of or abundance of conventional talent," Koldewyn explained.

Koldewyn is the only original Cockette who will be performing in the new show. He never thought he'd be doing Cockettes revivals all these years later.

The troupe remains popular. In 2002 they were the subject of a feature-length documentary by David Weissman and Bill Weber. Nearly 20 years later, the Victoria Theater celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Cockettes with a tribute/revival show that played to a sold-out house. There was also a show performed at Oasis in June of last year.

While only one actual Cockette will be seen in "Cockette: Res-Erection," the new show promises to capture the spirit of the performances from a half-century ago. Part of the cast will be comprised of alumni of Thrillpeddlers, a now defunct theater group that was inspired by the Cockettes.

"It will be a revue of songs, solos and group numbers that encapsulates a Cockettes show-like experience," said Koldewyn. "Unlike the previous Oasis show, which was more or less a re-celebration of the 50th anniversary show, this will let the story tell itself, with the theme and structure held together in a very Cockettes way, with plenty of non-sequitur and stoned psychedelic logic. Hopefully full of a million laughs, some really pretty excellent singing, lots of costume changes, and sex, sex, sex."

The new show will be a colorful musical mayhem revue featuring new songs and classic Cockettes numbers inspired by the changing season, bunnies, love and lust. Koldewyn spoke of how the new show came to be created.

"Like all good collaborations, it's hard to come up with who thought that up," he said. "But Dan Karkoska, Noah Hayden, Birdie-Bob Watt and I were in the room. You know, I think I mentioned Easter, and someone mentioned Spring, or was it the other way around? Once we had the ingredients, we just cooked. Generally Birdie and I came up with the ideas, Dan chiming in as well, and encouraging us. It was his idea to write a new Act 1 about the Res-Erection. Then Noah, as director, takes the wild ideas and further makes us define/refine them, and brings them to life with his staging ideas."

Koldewyn added that Watt is "really great" at ordering the songs so that the show flows best for smoothness and impact.

And what does Koldewyn hope the audience will take from "Cockettes: Res-Erection?"

"That cutting loose on stage is the thing to do," he said. "Make good with whatever you have, and celebrate who you are."

'Cockettes: Res-Erection,' March 23, 24, 25, 7pm. Oasis, 298 11th Street, $40-60. 21+ only. www.sfoasis.com

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