San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre saw the arrival of the camp legends behind “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” or “MST3K,” for the show’s Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour on its Feb. 1 matinee. The theater filled as audiences trickled in for the show, the last live circuit for host Joel Hodgson. The theater was populated with longtime fans, sometimes with their children, their parents, or with what looked like whole generations stretching across a row.
Hodgson emerged to the sound of eager cheers, donning his iconic red jumpsuit and a red guitar to match. He thanked the audience for coming out on the bright afternoon, launching into the iconic theme song. The moment was tinged with a bittersweet nostalgia; the performance which kicked off the show felt, ironically, like curtains on the decades long cult-classic. Or rather, this opening imbued the show with a kind of finality that carried throughout.
It was an inescapable fact: This tour would be the swan song of celebrated Captain Hodgson’s topsy-turvy ship. But the show was not without its playfulness. Hodgson invited audience members to sing along, supplying the “la la la’s” when appropriate and poking fun when the crowd of backup singers inevitably got the notes wrong. It was a motif that would be perpetuated throughout the show, audience and host laughing together and celebrating the antics of the well-loved classic.
It wasn’t until the iconic robot role call that the stage transformed into a true “MST3K” live show. Near the back of the stage, puppeteers dressed in black operated Hodgson’s lovable companions: Crow T. Robot, Tom Servo, Cambot and Gypsy — pronounced onstage like “G-PC,” a hopeful acknowledgement of the derogatory nature of the name — were all present and welcomed warmly. And from there, it was hard to tell where the quips began and the show ended.
The live show also introduced newcomers Emily Crenshaw (Emily Marsh), the show’s new maintenance woman and Hodgson’s predecessor, and Mega-Synthia (Yvonne Freese), a lovable new villain, grounded in the show’s roots. Freese and Marsh both presented an exciting future for the show, even without Hodgson at the helm.
As the show entered into its screening portion, showing the film “No Retreat, No Surrender,” the gang grabbed seats at stage right and assumed their wit-wracked commentary in the tradition of the show. Their jokes were a mix of anachronistic interjections and criticisms of all the problematic, formulaic, oh-so-1980s fanfare that adorned the film. Between laughing at an absurd, not-even-close casting for Bruce Lee to satirizing the moments where the film almost, but not quite, makes a bid for a “Karate Kid” wannabe, the audience was entirely engaged and entertained.
The live show, even with new additions, kept the heart of the original series and only offered more justification for its longevity. And in the most “MST3K” fashion, the show shoehorned circus-themed bits into would-be commercial breaks, Crow offering off-brand safety tips and Tom Servo stubbornly foiling his every effort to do so. The antics continued into intermission, Reese and Marsh maintaining the DIY spirit of the show. As Marsh cleaned up the stage, both she and Reese committed to their characters even with the house lights up, both women proving to be worthy additions to the line up.
“Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live” proved that the show is capable of holding on to its devoted fanbase, all while attracting and growing an even bigger one. With the stage set for a fruitful future for “MST3K,” the show’s closing, ironically, felt like curtains opening on a new era for the series. And while late last year Netflix decided to cancel the series after a short two seasons, the live show is evidence to not only what the series has to offer, but to the loyal crowd that stands behind it. There will always be movies we love to hate, and “MST3K” continues to offer the perfect venue, and community, to do so with.