How could you not love a stage full of beautiful, eager-to-please women treating the audience to such campy one-liners as, “I’ve seen it all. I’ve been in more laps than a napkin!”
Recently, a few lucky members of the New York press were treated to a sneak preview– a “tease”, if you will– of “Burlesque to Broadway”, the upcoming new musical produced by Live Nation and starring the magnetic, flame-haired dynamo Quinn Lemley. The 30 minute sneak “peek-a-boo”– complete with lovely and talented showgirls, feather boas, pasties, and many all-out, no-holes-barred musical numbers — packed a real wallop. And, like any good tease, it left us begging for more!
Just what is burlesque? The strict definition is “an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something, especially in a literary or dramatic work; a parody”… but most often people know burlesque to be “a variety show which typically includes striptease”. As we enter 2014, burlesque has enjoyed a lot of attention as something of a “new old” art form. It has been a part of American culture for a long, long time. (If you go by one of the characters in the show, it was born circa 1893.) Burlesque reached its height of popularity in the early 20th century before languishing in the 40’s. By the sexual revolution of the ’60’s and ’70’s, it all but died out as audiences moved to more explicit entertainment. Today, however, burlesque is enjoying a bold and sexy new life with the neo-burlesque movement in New York City and elsewhere. It’s no mystery why. Younger audiences, including many potential neophyte performers themselves, have discovered just what makes burlesque unique: the combination of humor, pageantry, creativity, spectacle… and, of course, sexuality! “Burlesque to Broadway” promises to give this “new old” art form the big, glossy, high-spirited tribute that it deserves. The show features 19 high-energy tracks with favorites like “Let Me Entertain You”, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”, “Big Spender”, and (of course) the song that says it all without saying a word: “The Stripper”. There are also titillating costumes and some dynamic choreography. And, best of all, the show features the curvaceous talents of singer/dancer/show conceptualist Quinn Lemley, who is no less than a revelation.
The new bold and baudy musical, like its name suggests, is a celebration of our icons who brought burlesque from its origins (which have included some, shall we say, “houses of ill repute”) to the big-budget world of Broadway… and beyond. Betty Page, Lili St. Cyr, and Gypsy Rose Lee are mentioned. In addition to being a celebration of burlesque, it is also– as one of the show’s Producers pointed out– “a celebration of women– the POWER of women!” He also pointed out that the over-the-top comedy pageantry, spectacle, and naughty sex appeal of burlesque have paved the way for much of our American culture in the last few decades — including the variety shows and sitcoms of the 70’s and 80’s, and such flamboyant, sexy pop icons as Beyonce and Lady Gaga today.
“Real women have curves”– and “Burlesque to Broadway” intends to show just that… However, as admirers of burlesque will tell you, the art form has never been solely about showing skin. In addition to sex appeal, burlesque has always incorporated lots of laughs into the shows as well. While some of the vintage jokes may seem corny or only mildly suggestive in 2014, many of them would have been actually considered outrageous or even vulgar “back in the day”. Alongside the singing and dancing, the preview was peppered with many sassy zingers, many courtesy of the lady who brought sex to the screen, Mae West. Ms. West never showed any skin, but still managed to get the uptight citizen’s brigade all fired up (and not in the good way!) with her infamous one-liners. How about, “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted!” Or, “I only like two kinds of men, domestic and imported.” And… just one more for good measure: “‘You only live once… but if you do it right, once is enough!”
There may be a nine-man band on stage for “Burlesque to Broadway”, but this is “Ladies Night (Oh What a Night!)” all the way. As the ultimate musical tribute to the power of a beautiful woman, the climax of the preview showcased a total of FIVE ladies on stage for an all-out, funked up, rock-and-roll version of the Tom Jones hit “She’s A Lady”– with some slightly tweaked lyrics: “She’s a lady! And the lady is YOURS!” These girls twirled those pink feather boas so energetically that by the end of the act, the stage looked like it was molting season at a flamingo colony. Whew!
“Burlesque to Broadway” takes off (ahem…) at New York City’s Gramercy Theater on February 5th through the 8th. Visit http://www.BurlesquetoBroadway.com for more info. Here is this critic’s advice: Drop everything… and get your tickets!
(The illustration of Ms. Lemley is by Robert W. Richards. The photos are courtesy of Century Artists Mgt.)