NYBF 2016: We’re All Grows Up Now

Lady Laverna performing at the 2016 New York Burlesque Festival Saturday night show.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

B.B. King’s, NYC

Time’s change, people grow into themselves. A festival, ideally, will also grow and become more of what its constituency represents—and last night, at B.B. King’s, in a basement under Times Square where a vodka soda can run you sixteen dollars, we got the latest edition of the New York Burlesque Festival’s big night—with two very obvious changes from other iterations: the show didn’t open with Brian Newman, and it didn’t close with Tigger!. And while we missed them both, it’s always exciting to see people you admire get hotter gigs. (We’re bummed to have missed Tigger! with Taylor Mac in A 24-Decade History of Popular Music.)

Speaking of change—and new traditions?—let’s hope my hangover breakfast at BBK’s of fried chicken and waffles washed down with two Manhattans does not become a habit.

Balancing newness with many of the New York glitteritzia, overall the show was a knockout, with highs—from Murray Hill’s chicken finger-eating intro for Dirty Martini—and lows—the longest raffle in the history of burlesque.

Opening up the night was the vocal powerhouse Storm Marrero, backed by a blistering band of keys, bass, drums, and a fantastic guitarist who’s spent a lot of time listening to Carlos Santana. Marrero’s arrangements are masterful, from a slow, soulful Beyonce’s “Crazy,” to a positively funky Fleedwood Mac’s “Dreams,” and a wicked cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.” Charming and delightfully grateful to be on the stage, Marrero has both chops and grace.

The first draught of the night is a hard pour, and Finland’s Lady Laverna really sloshed it all over the spill mats. Handsome in carny drag, hatted and exuberantly kohled, her execution was flawless, holding the house’s gaze with long eye contact and powerful bouts of stillness. What a glove peel: she bit and leaned back, pulling the glove off while the hand did not move; for the second, she flipped a bird, sucked the finger, and popped it off, the glove collapsing and still sending said message: fuck you. After stripping all the way to a tassel twirl—and did you see her rhinestoned underarms?—she wasn’t done. Her hat came off to reveal a thick, meter-long red braid, which she whipped across the stage. Bravo.


Gal Friday performing at the 2016 New York Burlesque Festival Saturday night show.

Gal Friday


Gal Friday’s brand-new act was a stunner. She’s matured so much as a performer, she comes on with such command you wonder if she’ll just chop up the stage with an axe and burn it. I don’t know how meta she meant this act to be—but I took it as political, since Ted Nugent has become a right-wing gun nut and Gal was moving to “Stranglehold” with a fucking dead dear over her shoulders. In a patterned dress and short orange gloves, she threw her hands up high and threatened to bring the whole proscenium down. There is real power in that woman—whose hair has grown out to a full-bodied spark. After a peel, she dabbed her lips with her glove, as if she’d spilled a little. Stalking and hitting vogue poses, in the long instrumental meat of the song she moved into floor work, then took a knife, cut the deer open, pulled out a red boa to move with, and ended with tassel twirls, making said deer go down on her. The moral of the story? I’m going with: Ted Nugent is a deerfucker.

Sweetpea dropped in from Minneapolis to show us how it’s done, dancing her proverbial everything off to a meta-mix of Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” and GnR’s “Welcome to the Jungle.” Sweetpea tore it up while stripping out of ’70s gypsy accouterments down to ever-smaller, ever-more glamorously beaded unmentionables. Giving great face, she escalated to a sick split, then into shoulder stands and into tassels—with an eleventh-hour strip to one last, even teenier, G-string, so quick you might’ve missed it.


Raquel Reed performing at the 2016 New York Burlesque Festival Saturday night show.

Raquel Reed


In a different take on the ‘70s, Nasty Canasta was decked out in a full regalia of denim—like she shredded Stevie Nicks’ costume closet—to Bowie’s “Jean Genie.” Nasty is another who seems to own the stage, like she built it with her own damn hands, and this simple, clever act revolved around various forms of “cutoffs” and came to a selvedge at that jiggly, jiggery guitar bit—as she zingled twin zippers to slip out of her shorts.

Darlinda Just Darlinda narrated her own act, ending with cops citing her to cover up her merkin with a g-string—which she pulled from, um—look, here’s that “Broad City” link again —in an act that ultimately didn’t come together. The Maine Attraction did NOT climb into anyone’s lap or do chairstands—a wonderful change of pace for her—and kinda upstaged her own act afterwards, when she and Murray did an extended riff on each other. Maine outshined in broad physical comedy, putting us on the floor. Waving off compliments while simultaneously waving them on? Blow-jobbing Murray’s mic? That shit is rich. And Jo Weldon brought out her classic Godzilla act—the one-boob manually-assisted tassel twirl was just hilarious—and we got a very—very—disturbing Julie Atlas Muz in a Donald Trump mask. Murray: “fucking horrifying.”

Raquel Reed turned in a devastating act in a gorilla costume—crawling onstage to Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” and using a true simian stance, she was convincing, and scary in a brutal mask. As the track picked up she started a little bounce, and into the chorus—“I want to fuck you like an animal”—her moves became feminine, and she stripped even as she thumped her chest. Woman’s body + gorilla mask, it’s hard to beat, but the third chapter of the act went long as the song droned on—could have used a musical edit there. As she reached for the mask, my photographer said, “Don’t do it!”—but she took it off. Overall, a great act that could become epic.


Murray Hill and Julie Atlas Muz onstage at the 2016 New York Burlesque Festival Saturday night show.

Murray Hill and Julie Atlas Muz


As for the final reveal: yes or no? This, we could talk about all day. Raquel Reed chose to take her mask off. Laura Desiree from Toronto did a pleasing act in Weimar Gestapo gear, giving us her alluring back but denying us her front, hidden behind her trench, and never gave it up. Murray loves to break the façade, and insisted that Tansy’s lion—Pilobolus’ Leon Lightfoot—take off his mask for us. #mixedfeelings (Wonderful to see Tansy’s act again, from up close, on a smaller stage—it’s a fucking doozy.)

And Julie—well, leave it to Julie—she took hers off, but while way upstage, showing us her ass.

Peekaboo Pointe cashed in on her patented skill set for stillness and slowness, and gave us a stunning act that turned her into a literal disco ball—wearing a mirrored corset, slowly, oh-so-slowly turning, as the lights hit her and exploded outwards, visible in the light smoke, like a shining, glittering diamond in a basement in Times Square. So good, so worth it—but I don’t understand why the DJ—who was cutting up various versions of “Nightmare”—had to be on stage with her, especially when it took him so long to set up. Murray: “Let’s hear it for manspreading.”

It was a pleasure to see Miss Poison Ivory perform—our reigning Queen, as I missed her win this year at the Burlesque Hall of Fame. Murray reminded us that she was a winner of Angie’s Star Search just six years ago—ugh, I feel suddenly old. And SUCH a charmer—getting the mic for a hot second, she used it to plug BHOF and to encourage the punters to join. #preach


Angie Pontani performing at the 2016 New York Burlesque Festival Saturday night show.

Angie Pontani



And Angie Pontani herself took back the stage in a stunning, flying-saucer-y dress by David Quinn, and man, this thing is a wowser, full-on B-52s, and you could hear it swish as she sashayed. This was Angie’s victory lap after having a baby, and she is putting the Ooomph back in MILF. With her hands-up, patented pump move, Angie peeled it off and picked up the dress—which was like a giant fan, teasing us, and stepped out in end-of-“Grease” leather pants and a black corset. The crowd was just yelling.


Kitten N' Lou performing at the 2016 New York Burlesque Festival Saturday night show.

Kitten N’ Lou


In the newer school, few performers are as stirring as Mr. Gorgeous and the duo of Kitten N’ Lou. Kitten N’ Lou did an utterly and totally silly act, and wonderfully so. Like Sesame Street for grownups. Covered in fringe—including the face, like fluffy stuffed animals—each had a giant face drawn on to her body. They started with a bouncy, rollicking unison choreo to an instrumental version of “Minnie the Moocher,” and after losing a little fur—but keeping the eyes on their tits and mouths on their crotches—(so many ways to misread this sentence)—they moved like drunken puppets before baring their real faces, and turned it up as Shamir’s “The Regular” got the vibe moving. (These kids have great taste in music.) Wigs ditched to reveal Dumb N Dumber wigs, and some breathtaking choreo—and the button: Lou’s crotch-mouth opening to a long, red tongue. So stupid.


Mr. Gorgeous performing at the 2016 New York Burlesque Festival Saturday night show.

Mr. Gorgeous


Likewise, Gorgeous. To Goldfrapp’s “Ooh La La,” he towered almost to the ceiling, swirling a cape that filled the room. Trying to unlace his leggings he yelled out, “This takes forever,” and pulled a punter from the audience to help him, conning him into helping with the corset, too, as Gorgeous backed up into him, and then got him to hold a flower while he bullwhipped it—but not before yelling, “I don’t know how to do this.” A fun act, showing tons of personality, with all the adorable face-pulling you can eat.

Calamity Chang, to Michael Buble’s version of “Feeling Good,” framed herself behind beautiful black fans, and early on revealed herself in a full-body, utterly transparent, brocaded negligee. The fan dance became more of a flirtation than a tease, and as she framed her face in the fans she was truly magnetic. When she pulled the negligee off over her head, it covered her face for a moment—why is that so hot?—and her body was crisscrossed in black lacing like a licorice-flavored treat. She ended on her knees in a slow self-caress. Calamity was hands-down the best I’ve ever seen her.


Calamity Chang performing at the 2016 New York Burlesque Festival Saturday night show.

Calamity Chang


And we were all gooey on the inside, how far we’ve all come—who everyone is now, what we were all doing when we were just babies on the scene. Is it weird to feel proud of people whom you don’t know well, whom you only see a couple of times a year? I don’t think so. Artists need all kinds of support, and often get precious little.

And speaking of look who’s all grows up: Topher Bousquet. Probably my favorite of the night, laid out in a blue glimmer merman tail, such a beautiful boy, the act was as well-structured and self-topping as the best of burlesque acts. To a medley from “The Little Mermaid,” he pulled a few classic contortionist moves, then stepped out of his tail in teeny shorts, and grabbed a light-up hula hoop as Christina Aquilera’s “Let There Be Love” turned the room into a club. He had the crowd going with the hoop spinning on one leg while he lifted the other, then he straightened the leg up over his head while and the room went apeshit. He kept heating it up—stripping to a tiny jock, then bending back and rolling the hoop around on the floor, making it do a lap around his body—I don’t think I’ve ever seen that move before—and moving into a full handstand, still spinning the blinging hoop on one foot. He stood up, and dropped the hoop like a mic. FUCKING NUTSO.


Topher Bousquet performing at the 2016 New York Burlesque Festival Saturday night show.

Topher Bousquet


And in a completely different tone, and look who’s all grows up—Broadway Brassy did a torn-down turned-up version of Radiohead’s “Creep” that was pure torchsong. Her phrasing is so wonderfully off-kilter, her emotion so earnest, and her sustain so heartbreaking—I almost shed a tear. For reals. Because I think we all feel that way, a lot. “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here.”

Last night, for one night at least, we all did.

Kiss kiss,


Check out the full photo gallery of images from the show. You can also follow up on all our coverage of the New York Burlesque Festival throughout the years.

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All photos ©Melody Mudd and used here with express permission for Burlesque Beat. Performers may use shots for promotional purposes, but please credit properly with photographer’s full name and a link to this piece. All other requests please contact us to acquire permission.


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