Burlesque: more than meets the eye

Culture Theatre
–Provided (photo)
–Provided (photo)

Burlesque used to be an art form involving extravaganza, parody, caricature, and even elements of vaudeville now and again. Now that vaudeville is largely dead, that sort of burlesque seems quite rare. I once worked a burlesque show in Halifax as a magician and mentalist to do filler in between classic striptease acts, but that group is no longer active. Other burlesque acts I’ve seen were just striptease. Yes, the tassels made it nominally burlesque, but the acts themselves had no satire, no panache, and most of the moves were reminiscent of the traditional strippers’ moves one might see at the Fox.

Though the burlesque of yore is rare, it is still very much alive. On Oct. 4, the Cheesecake Burlesque Revue performed a show at the Roxy to mark their upcoming trip to Europe. This group, however, incorporates much of the old satirical or extravaganza elements of the old style burlesque, but with their own modern twist.

“[We take] very much from the history of burlesque,” said one performer going by the stage name of Wild Honey, “and from the performers all the way from the early days in the ‘10s and ‘20s and ‘30s, from Minsky’s [Burlesque] and other things like that, but adding our own modern flair.”

When asked what their own modern flair entails, Wild Honey elaborated on what the idea of “cheesecake” was, saying that while it’s open to interpretation, “it’s fun, it’s flirty, it’s a little bit heavy sometimes.”

The troupe “absolutely [has] a message of body positive,” she says, “so that all shapes and sizes are on stage and often our audiences are actually women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who come. So we find it [a] very pleasant, loving, funny kind of event.” She also spoke about how they use both old and new songs, and tells audiences to expect a variety of different performances and styles.

Wild Honey kept her promises; striptease was the medium and not the message. Granted, traditional fillers such as ventriloquists weren’t there. However, the event made up for it in the sense that almost all of the acts were not simply stripteases, but dance performances with a story. The variety aspect of burlesque extended to the stories being told in the dances, the singing acts that joined in, and the different body types on stage. There were performances that could elicit laughter, tears, and surprise—all in a few seconds.

One such act from the first half was entitled “Blue Moon”. A young lady danced to Frank Sinatra’s rendition of the song with a giant blue balloon that was supposed to be a blue moon, all while a young man was wooing her. Unfortunately, the blue moon prematurely burst into glitter, and she cried and stormed off the stage. It was heart-wrenchingly funny.

In the second half, there were three acts about marriage that moved me: one about a lady gutting a fish and finding an engagement ring, another about a jaded woman at the altar, and finally, one featuring a woman with a ukulele singing “Let’s Do It,” a song about a wife trying to get busy with her husband. I got to see both magic (well, pranks) and singing in a span of three burlesque acts in ways I never expected.

After the show, I felt a little let down because it was over, but I’m confident that as they travel through Europe, the Cheesecake Burlesque Revue will keep the art of true burlesque alive.