By Sean K. Young – Photos By Tonya Armbruster
Friday, September 14, 2012
New Orleans Burlesque Fest, night number two, show number one. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Tonight Harrah’s was even more crowded than last. An even more diverse group of performers, beauties, beasts, carnies and all around freaks shuffled in with the regular folk off the street just looking to see a show. Immediately recognizable was the look on the faces of the casual burlesque observer. The leer of guys as they hope their gals don’t notice. I like to consider myself a seasoned veteran when it comes to lascivious depravity–I grew up in New Orleans and have spent more than my fair share of time around naked women–but even I found myself a little wide-eyed in this sea of loveliness.
Before the heart of the evening kicked off, we were treated to a cavalcade of glamour: a fashion show from Secrets in Lace, a premier supplier of elegant vintage lingerie and a major sponsor of the festival. The highlight of this was Medianoche getting dressed. Yeah, you read that right. Getting dressed. Let me start by saying that if you have not seen Medianoche in person, I am not sure there is a more perfect specimen of womanly beauty. Curves in the exact right places, a backend that just screams to be spanked, and a face that could melt the heart of Stalin. To watch her put clothes on was more alluring than ever watching any bourbon street girl take them off. I felt like I needed a shower and the show had not even started yet.
The Master of Ceremonies for Mondo was the esteemed Armitage Shanks, the Carny Preacher. Unlike other hosts that merely keeping the show going between the ladies, Armitage is worth a ticket on his own. Reminiscent of P.T. Barnum, Armitage is more ringmaster than emcee. He commanded the room with his opening number and you knew immediately this was his show, his story to tell, and we were just along for the ride.
The Hoochie Coochie Girls from St. Louis sauntered out on stage as if they were bothered to be here. Half the girls started tap dancing…seriously tap dancing, and the others seemed disinterested. At first I was unsure about what was happening until, duh, it hit me that it was part of the act. I don’t think I was expecting four gorgeous scantily clad women on stage to be jocular, but not only were they funny, they could really dance.
The jewelry box ballerina has been done by others, but I don’t think any has done it like Angelique DeVil. With tick-tock movements of a 19th century wind-up, Angelique’s animatronics would kick most street poppers to the curb. Her princess white corset and tutu gives us hints of what is to come with glimpses of black under garments and falling rose petals. Back up on her box, with a music change comes a transformation–she unzips her corset and black petals spill across the floor revealing her black bra. The tutu comes off to reveal black panties and the dance style becomes more fluid, more powerful, with a barely contained aggression. Wow! Just wow.
Our next two acts could not have been more different from each other. First was the Ruby Revue from Dallas. This trio, a small sample of the Texas cast, strutted their stuff with a classic Vegas showgirl style number. I felt like I needed a martini to complete the vibe – total Mad Men. Then Lucille Ti Amore appeared in a gender bending, un-glamorous pair of pants and a wifebeater. Lou Reed’s “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” played as she provocatively stripped off her outfit including a well-placed ace bandage, to eventually don a much more feminine flapper dress.
Speaking of gender twists, I was crazy excited to finally see Sammich the Tramp. As a Charlie Chaplin fan and a bit of a silent film buff, Sammich’s act tickled me. In a scene more than a little reminiscent of “The Great Dictator,” Sammich’s barber was a little more tongue in cheek than Chaplin’s, but just as entertaining, if not more so. Then after that brilliance, I was transported back to the Vegas strip as Sweetpea did her best Carmen Miranda dancing to Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line.” With every “Shake Shake, Shake Senora,” Sweetpea shook all the right things.
The acts that got the awards (in my head, anyway) for the most fun of the night were the Cheesecake Burlesque Revue from Canada and Geoffrey Debauchery. The Cheesecake Burlesque Revue was an absolute delight. Champagne Sparkles did her best Gene Kelly opening with “Singing in the Rain,” and as the music shifted to what might be the coolest version of “Umbrella” that I have heard, the rest of the troupe danced their way out, all in full raingear carrying red umbrellas. By the time the raincoats came off for the reveal, I had the biggest grin on my face. Geoffrey Debauchery had me actually laughing with his homemade movie stripathon. It was geeklesque. He was like watching your nerdy next door neighbor take his clothes off–hilariously disturbing.
Stephanie Blake, the “Singing Nurse” from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, brought back several dirty high school memories – not that I have any other kind. I am not sure what she is doing, but Stephanie has cheated Father Time. Proving that age is only a number, she looked fantastic in a classic bump and grind.
Armitage kept the show rolling with another well-woven tune. In what may have been the best rendition of “Port of Amsterdam” since Jacques Brel himself, Shanks belted it out with a theatrical growl that captivated the crowd. There is something about Armitage that makes me feel like I would not want to meet him at the crossroads. Just sayin’.
Two stunning beauties wrapped up the show – the first of which was the 2012 Burlesque Hall of Fame’s Queen of Burlesque, Imogen Kelly. Rising from a mound of pink feathers are two flamingo heads eyeing each other with a little love, a little hate. Then the feathers themselves began to rise, revealing Imogen draped in more pink feathers than a Mardi Gras Indian, complete with pink feather fans for wings and a flamingo mantle that had to weigh a ton. Fluttering across the stage dropping feathers all the while, it was easy to see why she ran away with the honors last summer in Vegas.
So who could possibly follow a reigning Queen other than New Orleans’ own, Miss Stormy Gayle. I have said it before about Stormy, and I will say it again: She could just as easily grace the cover of any gentleman’s magazine as she can the burlesque stage. Stormy skillfully maneuvers a giant spinning wheel while peeling off clothing and doing what seem to be impossible splits. She makes a medieval torture device look really sexy.
Holy crap, that was a show! It went on forever but did not last long enough. But oh, wait, there is a whole other one – tonight – in less than a 30 minuites. Off to House of Blues….
New to the burlesque scene, Sean K. Young is the managing partner of a New Orleans-based I.T. firm. He and Tonya Armbruster have recently launched the NOLA culture blog Southern Babylon.
All photos ©Tonya Armbruster and used with express permission by Burlesque Beat. Performers may use shots for promotional purposes, but please credit properly with photographer’s full name and a link to this piece in all instances.