On Storming the Bastille in Philadelphia, or Rocky Horror Meets History Class

For the past 21 years, Bastille Day has been celebrated in the shadow of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. It is historical re-enactment as can only be done by the Philadelphians: lots of sarcasm, irony, heavy political satire, and losing sports teams. This year’s show was held on not-quite Bastille Day, July 11.

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“That’s nice,” you say. “But was there beer?”

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Yes. There was beer. Kronenbourg 1664 was a sponsor.

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This historical accuracy of the event was… rough to say the least.

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I’m sure French revolutionary executioners didn’t wear lace masks. But we’re Americans and we’re creative and we improvise! Viva le France! Let’s kill some melons.

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The executioner and his assistant at the (fully functional) guillotine.

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Swish!

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Viva le France!

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The show was written and performed by the Bearded Ladies, a caberet troupe in Philly. Eastern State Penitentiary played the titular character.

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Our host for the evening was the Spirit of Paris herself, the ghost of Edith Piaf!!! And she comes with a flag, smoke, and streamers on a really big lift!

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And she’s played by a dude!

 

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But now for the second number, set to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. “La la liberté!…”

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“Eh eh egalité!! Fra fra fraternité!”

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“French Revolution!!” Then the song drifted into “… And we’ll never be royals…”

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Mona Lisa wasn’t smiling. She was smirking at the state of Philadelphia politics and the shittiness of its schools.

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The script changes annually reflect current events in local, state, and national life. “Zees ees all eestorically accurate! Jhust ask your school cheeldreen. Zey learned about eestoire. No!!!! Mon dieu! Zeen zees ees all true because you don’t know any betterre!”

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What kind of appropriation of French culture would this be without the can-can?!! An ode to the new PA governor, Tom Wolf, was set to Piaf’s “Milord”. For the crowd participation part of the performance, we screamed “arroooooo” every time Edith said “Tom Wolf”. This is all be tongue in cheek. Just so you know.

But enough about Pennsylvania (for now). This is about France! And the French Revolution! And French revolutionaries, so let’s trot some out! Here’s Joan of Arc. As history recalls, she was burnt at the stake…

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… so the Bearded Ladies set her tits on fire.

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Yes. Those are sparklers. And a Phillies cap. Both Joan and the Phillies will be remembered for their massive devotion and their massive failure. And going down in flames.

Next revolutionary: Napoleon!

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He sang “We Are the Champions” in French while riding around on his horse.

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Edith Piaf, also on horseback, translated into English.

Oh no! Here’s the evil Tastykake coming to tempt the hungry mob and flip the bird to healthy food initiatives with death-defying preservatives!!!

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Not photographed: All the flavors in the Tastykake arsenal, um… product line, spraying the mob with whipped cream.

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Kake will not win the day as long as Ben Franklin is around.

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And he brought his liberty bell(e)s.

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But Tastykake was not alone! She’s with the dastardly queen, Marie Antoinette!!! Terry Berch McNally, owner of the nearby London Grill, is the founder of Philadelphia’s Storming of the Bastille celebration and has played Marie Antoinette for its entirety. Marie Antoinette, by the way, was never without a bottle of booze. She rocked a bottle of Piper Heidsieck on the roof.

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The people want bread. They have no bread! FYI: Bread flung from a distance packs a nice little wallop.

There was also a round of “let’s shoot the Bastille with supersoakers that have been sitting in the sun for a few hours… and spray down the mob, too!” Do you know what it’s like to be shot with hot water out of a supersoaker? It’s not comfortable, I can tell you that.

But back to Marie Antoinette. Let them eat cake? No. “LET THEM EAT TASTYKAKE!!!!”

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And then over 3,000 Tastykakes were flung from the Bastille’s roof onto the hungry mob below.

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I got hit with a Tastykake, but that bounced off my shoulder and someone else got it. This one fell into the press pit (yes, the event has a press pit. It’s getting bigger every year. Now you can be one of those people who say, “I knew about that before it got famous…” even though the NY Times did a piece on it last year). No one else went for it, so I took it. Yeah, it was on the ground. But it’s wrapped. Shut up. Free Tastykake!!!

By the way, this was the first time I had this brand of faux Twinkie. It was nauseatingly sweet and tasted like caramel or something. The package said “butterscotch”.

 

At this point you might be reminded of another show that included musical numbers, stuff flung around the performance space, and water guns. The Storming of the Bastille is, at its core, Rocky Horror meets history class.

Back to the show. The mob won, the mysterious prisoner of the Bastille was released (it was Mayor Nutter’s assistant, who was freed from his job following around the hyperactive politician), and Evil Kake and Evil Marie were taken to be judged.

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Viva la revolution!

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Marie Antoinette took a couple of slugs from her bottle of Piper because she knew her time was up. Then the Pope showed arrived!!!!!

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He heard about the problems that’ll be caused by the security fence Philadelphia’s building to keep out the riffraff during his visit in September. His Holiness wanted to get in before traffic got too bad. And — what timing!!! — he also convinced the mob to pardon the Queen, who paid her penance by being de-wigged and was forced to sing a song about peace, love, and togetherness. And then there were confetti canons.

The end.

PS: Go see the show next year. It’s wicked fun and you can drink in the street in broad daylight. WOOO!!!!

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