Backstage with Beach Blanket Babylon's John Camajani
“House lights out.”
That simple statement begins John Camajani’s night as stage manager of San Francisco’s “Beach Blanket Babylon.” Those words set in motion a zany live production that has been going on since founder Steve Silver launched the popular revue in June of 1974. On March 6, Camajani will hang up his clipboard and retire after having worked for Beach Blanket Babylon since 1979. He retires on his 70th birthday.
John Camajani lives in Sonoma, having moved here in 1999 after he and his wife Felicity drove up for the day and fell in love with the place. They raised their three children here: Dan, Jenny and Joseph. Daughter-in-law Julia and grandaughters Olive and Daphne round out Camajani’s supportive family.
For the past two decades, he has been making the trip to Club Fugazi in the colorful North Beach neighborhood five days a week, arriving there mid-afternoon, and leaving sometime around 11 p.m.
“I like to get here about an hour before anybody else to collect my thoughts and make sure everything is organized,” Camajani said, during an interview in the basement work and storage area of Club Fugazi.
“People tell me that I am really going to miss this. I haven’t done anything else for 40 years,” Camajani says.
Camajani is not the only Sonoma resident who made the trek across the Golden Gate Bridge every day. Sonoma resident Ellen Toscano was a cast member of BBB for 10 years. Sonoma residents Steve Salgo and Bill Keck are current cast members and play in the house band. Salgo serves as a horn player, and Keck is the musical director and conductor. “I have been here only 25 years,” Keck remarked. “I am not in John’s class.”
Sonoma resident Val Diamond is an ex-BBB star. She and her husband Salgo made the drive to North Beach, where she participated in over 10,000 performances. Sonoma Valley resident Paulino Duran was also a cast member for many years. The late Steve Silver also lived in Sonoma.
Other current county-resident cast members of BBB are Doug Magpiong and Kelly Brandenburg, who both live in Santa Rosa.
In a Facebook post, Camajani’s daughter Jenny said, “I’ve watched my dad going to work and coming home late for as long as I can remember. He has been a great example to me for what hard work and dedication really means and looks like.” Later she added, “Steve Silver would be really proud of my dad with all the hard work and dedication he has put into working for his company for 40 years.”
Toscano fondly remembers working with Camajani, or “Big Daddy,” as she calls him. “He is so thoughtful and really funny. He loves to bring smiles to people’s faces.” Asked about his impending retirement, Toscano said, “I am so happy for him, we all love him so much.”
Beach Blanket Babylon producer Jo Schuman Silver said, “John is one of the most important people ever to be in the show. He runs it like no other.” She pleaded: “Tell him not to leave.”
In what can only be described as an understatement, Camajani says: “I just deal with the backstage area.”
What he actually does is orchestrate the movements of 10 singing and dancing actors, two costume workers and the 90 costume changes they execute, two stage hands, a four piece band, and the light and sound crew. That is just during the 90 minutes of the show.