Sassy, Classy, and Proud

Until I got to LA, the world of burlesque was somewhat foreign to me. I had a vague notion of 1920’s showgirls doing Bob Fosse numbers for over-excited guys in trench-coats and fedoras, a lot of nasally yammering and two-note whistles. But even this general notion of burlesque was gleaned from Looney Tunes and old movies, not real life.

Then in LA, I realized there was an actual burgeoning scene, filled with human beings, or at least the Hollywood equivalent. It seemed everywhere I went, there was some amateur poster or postcard hanging up, featuring a scantily clad woman in heavy make-up, teasing me to visit the “Saturday Night Follies” or “Beatrice’s Boudoir.” Thus I developed a kind of adverse reaction to the ad saturation. I felt these so-called burlesque girls were simply suburban strippers in disguise, lacking the fortitude to go the whole way. To me, it was post-feminism imploding in on itself.

Still I hadn’t yet seen a burlesque show with my own two eyes, and had very little idea what it entailed. So this past Sunday night, I decided to get up off my hypocritical, ivory-stained tuchus, and check out “Red Snapper’s Sassy, Classy Burlesque Revue” at The Sherry Theatre in North Hollywood.

I held some hesitation over whether to bring a notebook or not. Normally I always bring a notebook to any event I review, whether it be a gallery or a film screening, but the idea of taking notes while a girl is showing off her tasseled breasts seemed somehow creepy to me. In the end, I decided to take notebook, but keep it on the down-low.

Right from the start of “Red Snapper’s Sassy, Classy Burlesque Revue” I realized how ignorant I’d been. There was a giant, inflatable bottle of Absinthe set up on the stage, three guys in sharp suits and slicked-back hair sitting behind me—each toting a bottle of champagne and going by the monikers of Frederick O’Hollywood and Patrick the Bank Robber. Burlesque, it seemed, was a kind of costume party, a carnival, a renaissance fair for those who preferred jazz with their coffee. And everyone was happy.

The first performer, one Mr. Snapper (aka Andrew Moore), the emcee of the night, got things going with a cute ukulele rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” pitch-perfect trumpet scat-singing and all.  But in burlesque, there’s no such thing as cute—or even perfect—without raunch. So Mr. Snapper told a dirty joke before bringing up the premiere dancer: How does a college man propose? Answer: You’re having a what?

Bebe Firefly, the first lady as it were, was the reason for the inflatable Absinthe bottle. She was dressed as a dolled-up green fairy, the kind that supposedly pops up every once in a while under the influence of the nationally illicit spirit. To the tune of a jazzy, speed-guitar riff, Bebe proceeded to mix a glass of alcohol with sugar on stage, consume it, and promptly shake her hips and bust until all that was left was a thong and some tassels. The crowd, both men and women, all hooting and hollering, loved it.

Next up was Iona Vibrator, donning an elaborate, Asian/New Orleans fusion outfit, which came off in a similarly ritualized fashion to that of Bebe’s. After her: Ms. Jessabelle Thunder, who’s David Lynch-esque number made me realize the hypnotizing effect of such dances. It’s mostly just simple back and forth, some turns and winks thrown in, but for some reason it’s just enough to keep you swaying along with them.

The show’s producer and name-sake, Red Snapper, arrived on stage next, ushering the audience into the second half of the night—the more experienced girls. Snapper was obviously a crowd favorite, more than comfortable strutting around in a pair of garters and stockings, doing a kind of naughty 50’s housewife parody. The supposed female empowerment associated with modern burlesque became more apparent in Snapper’s performance. She possessed a definite control over her own teases, an excited familiarity with her routine that translated into a kind of feminine pride.

Panama Red followed, with Costa Brava not far behind, each showing off their own expertise with unique additions to the basic ritual of the formalized strip-tease. Whether it was Panama Red’s jungle-themed chest-shake, or Costa Brava’s feathered fan dance, these girls clearly knew what they were doing, and found ways to make playful what could become tiresome.

The show-stopper, both literally and figuratively, was Evie Lovelle, the seeming celebrity of the group, appearing in her last performance before a European tour. As she came out from backstage, wearing a tight corset which practically choked her tiny, tiny waist, the audience went nuts. And I could see why. She had long, black hair; gorgeous, pale skin; and a knowing smile that’s typically reserved for starlets of the silent film era. She’ll fit in just perfect in Europe.

Leaving the show, I talked to two female members of the audience, both of whom expressed interest in trying out burlesque themselves. They said they appreciated how the medium applauded real women, and how even conventionally “flawed” body-types could be made beautiful and powerful. As for me, I’m still not quite convinced of the transformative value in burlesque—after all, every number ends with what’s known as the “final reveal”—but I will say that I had a fun time. And as it tuns out, my note-taking didn’t feel that creepy at all. I suppose that’s because nothing seems that creepy about burlesque. It’s a celebration, rather than a perversion, and for that, I’ll hoot and holler with the rest of ‘em.

Photos by Holly Go Darkly

To find out about any and all upcoming burlesque shows in Los Angeles, please visit www.losangeles.Burlesque411.com.

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