Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2015: 58th Annual Titans of Tease Reunion Showcase
21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene…
Kay Sera reports on the 58th Annual Titans of Tease Reunion Showcase at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2015…
21st Century Burlesque Magazine Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2015 Coverage is sponsored by Fancy Feather.
The 58th Annual Titans of Tease Reunion Showcase, part of The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender, boasted the most burlesque legend participants ever—a record that no doubt pleased passionate host and self-proclaimed granny-chaser The World Famous *BOB*. It clearly pleased the audience—a nearly full house of burlesque fans, performers, producers, supporters and the media. Safe to say that even the seasoned attendee was delighted by the scope of the acts and the sheer number of legends who took The Orleans stage and schooled us all.
After *BOB* called for a moment of cheering rather than a moment of silence for those who have come and gone before us, the night began on an incredible high—a bevy of white-booted showboys paraded out to the familiar strains of Roxie—but wait! The lyrics told us that the name on everybody’s lips was gonna be—April! And with the help of Grant Philipo and the treasures at his Las Vegas Showgirls Museum, his longtime friend April March made an entrance befitting the 2015 Burlesque Hall of Fame Legend of the Year.
Stunning to the point of cinematic extreme in a zebra coat that nearly swallowed her, March revealed first a simple blue satin robe and then a devastating beaded gown, and ultimately she donned a blue-trimmed dressing gown that dripped with boudoir glamour and promise. And each transition was accentuated by an irrepressible smile and confident, knowing shine in her eyes. March’s joy and stage presence set the bar high for the evening, and the performers who followed did not disappoint.
A sultry and subtle (at first) Eartha Quake followed, and true to her name, she moved the audience. With a bold rock musicality, playful use of her garments and occasional, well-timed lip-syncing, Eartha absolutely registered her performance on the Richter scale.
With a grand piano in place and veteran Las Vegas pianist Joe Darro in fine form, Gail Winns entered, her voice strong as she sang Bye Bye Blackbird before embarking on a back-and-forth volley of music and humour, switching between her delightfully ribald jokes and her rich Broadway voice. Winn’s rim-shot-smart delivery was then perfectly offset by the languid grace of Isis Starr. In head to toe flowing white, Starr moved with commanding purpose, from a delicate twist of the wrist to a round-and-round twirl that both created a gorgeous flow of fabric and spoke to her strong foundation in movement. Starr did, indeed, shine.
Ellion Ness, with her elfish grin and deft flexibility, entered next and proceeded to bend the audience to her will as she bent herself backward over a chair and arched herself upward on the floor. The different levels she used and created on the stage demanded that the audience pay attention and follow her moves—which we happily did.
Shannon Doah started off by lipsyncing her own vocal performance in a coy, coquettish fashion before ducking behind the curtain to join Legend Lovey Goldmine in a fun, sassy and strong routine to Big Spender—their first time sharing the stage in over 40 years. With an assist from Kitten ‘N’ Lou, a song that—to me, at least—can be a little eye-rolling was instead made fresh by the obvious pleasure that they each were taking in it. Sure, there was a little Fosse to be found, but more so, the legends’ own personalities drove the audience and overcame what can be a too-familiar trope.
From that storyline, *BOB* shared an incredible true story—of Dee Milo renouncing her stripper ways and, at her mother’s behest, burning all of her costumes and memorabilia years ago. But then, in the forgotten recesses of her attic, Dee found one survivor—a red dress from her performing heyday. And sure enough, Dee wore that dress for her performance at BHoF. Every element of beguiling charm that it and its history carry were evident in Dee’s movements and face. And a frenzied little butt-shimmy at the very end of her act perfectly punctuated the never-give-up-your-joie-de-vivre spirit of her story.
Judith Stein entered in a royal blue velvet cloak, rich and heavy, and after some deft teases quickly flung it away to reveal her lush red can-can costume beneath. Known for her bold and brassy performances (as well as personality), Stein offered cheeky reveals and tongue-in-cheek salaciousness, draping her panties over an audience member’s head and denying another the chance to ‘assist’ in removing her corset. Her one-on-one engagement didn’t just break the fourth wall, it cheerfully thumbed its nose at it in perfect burlesque style.
Some performers live up to their names and some don’t—Marinka the Amazon is definitely in the former camp. As tall and as formidable as an obelisk, Marinka strode onstage in a beaded black see-through dress and a boa-encircled hat that rivaled anything you might see at the Ascot opening day. With legs that go all the way up, she smiled and powerfully moved her way confidently through her performance, highlighting moments with teasing pursed lips. She eschewed her signature curtain-humping—which just means the audience was left wanting more: the hallmark of the burlesque performer.
Dusty Summers held her face in a still and enticing smirk through the first part of her act, a fluid striptease from an elegant and fluffy white ensemble. With each piece she shed, she seemed to grow that much more emboldened (this from ‘the nude magician’—not known for her shyness, so clearly, this was a choice). And an effective one; by the time she completed that element of the act and donned her dressing down for her signature disappearing birds, the audience was entirely with her. And darn it if I haven’t seen this act before and every time, staring as hard as I can, following her every move, I have to ask, “WHERE DO THE BIRDS GO?!?!?”
Coincidentally (or not?), Summers’ doves were followed by a white feather fan dance introduction that gracefully marked the entrance of the Grant Avenue Follies, the senior troupe whose performances harken back to venues like the Forbidden City and Club Shanghai. In draped black crepe and red accent pieces, the eight ladies practically radiated fun. They then parted as did the curtain to showcase one of their members in a stunning, traditionally styled costume and headdress. I generally dislike when performers put their hand to their ear in a “let me hear it!” cue, but when this octogenarian did it? You can bet I amped up my cheering. She moved with the calm, confident precision any of us would be happy to have at any age.
Miss Indigo Blue and Coco Lectric tag-teamed an homage to burlesque legend Wild Cherry, who passed away last year. Each in a fall that readily called to mind Wild Cherry’s own untamed mane, the performers moved through their routines with obvious commitment and reverence while still effectively channeling the legend’s well-known passion and power.
And by the way, all of this was before the intermission.
The evening recommenced with The Walk of Fame, hosted by emcee Mat Fraser, whose lilting British accent lent an impromptu Masterpiece Theatre gravitas to the affair. This year’s guests featured the most legends yet, including (in alphabetical order, not in order of appearance):
Bic Carroll, Big Fannie Annie, Brandi Duran, Daisy Delight, Delilah Jones, Di Alba, Gina Bon Bon, Holiday O’Hara, Joy Dale, Julie Mist, Kim Summers, Liza Jourdan, Lola Foxx, Lottie the Body, Penny Starr Sr., Rubber Legs, Suzette Fontaine, Tai Ping, Tammi True, Tempest Storm, Teri Starr, Tess LaRue and Velvet Ice.
Each Legend to take the stage was greeted by the applause and adoration they deserve—or, perhaps more to the point, that they have earned. It was a pleasure to be able to share our gratitude with them.
Julie Atlas Muz and Peekaboo Pointe showed their gratitude for the early creativity, inspiration and innovation of choreographer, dancer and inventor Loie Fuller, whose signature sweeping silk costumes and often improvised fluid movements were highlighted by the coloured stage lighting of her own design (which she patented). Muz and Pointe blended together and separated, their long silk costumes doing the same, in varied graceful movements and, of course, evocative lighting.
When *BOB* announced the next act, the irrepressible Camille 2000, I anticipated a rather dramatic change of tone. But in a moving—and surprisingly gentle—performance from the ordinarily boisterous and bawdy Camille to Wind Beneath My Wings, the legend offered back to the audience her gratitude, and as *BOB* then reminded us, “A legend is someone with nothing to prove and everything to give.”
In keeping with the transformative nature of burlesque, Val Valentine went from gorgeous butterfly to… well, an even more gorgeous, less-burdened-by-clothes butterfly, in a spirited and upbeat routine. And to keep that upbeat beat going, Viva La Fever entered playing the saxophone. Her playing was so adept that I wondered if she was sax-syncing (she wasn’t). Her Harlem Nocturne was spot on and a delight to hear—and then, with the same sass, she peeled open the legs of her sequined pants and capped it off with furry pasties and g-string.
Toni Elling, 2014 Legend of the Year in whose honour most of the audience was wearing purple, was herself decked out tip to toes in the regal colour. But even a bright lavender wig and a wonderfully gigantic purple boa (presumably one of Big Fannie Annie’s Star Boas) couldn’t outshine that 1,000-watt smile of hers.
Longtime BHoF champion Laura Herbert then took the stage, fully glammed-up in a Grant Philipo creation that had just hours before adorned a manikin in his museum, to formally present the Legend of the Year award to April March. And as a surprise to March, the trophy itself was given to her by Legend (and friend) Alexandra the Great 48.
Holly Carroll, the ‘Singing Queen of Burlesque’, proved that she maintains the chops to hold on to that tagline as she crooned to the audience with a sly and sultry voice. And in a closing number set to balance the powerhouse opening, legends Gabriella Maze and Madame E., in high-court regalia, employed the talents of BHoF ‘hand-maidens’ Cheeky Cheetah, Jezabelle Von Jane, Kisa Von Teasa and Lilith Noir to back them up and do their sexy bidding. With assels and tassels twirling, the Amadeus-inspired group act was one befitting the royalty that made up the cast of the 58th Annual Titans of Tease Reunion Showcase.
Kay Sera is a Baltimore-based burlesque performer and founding member of Bawdy Shop Burlesque. She volunteers with The Burlesque Hall of Fame on its external relations and communications outreach programs and maintains the Twitter handle #BHoFBill to support performers in recovery or needing help.
View the full list of competition results here and stay tuned for more Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2015 coverage – enjoy all the coverage so far HERE!
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21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.