Review: Burlesque Royale

Burlesque Royale: Sydney Performance

It’s 6.45am on Sunday 23rd Jan.  My sequined ‘Dynasty’ gown is in a crumpled heap on the floor like a deflated Joan Collins. My high heels on the rug are two exhausted porn stars after a drug-fuelled sex orgy and the remnants of my make-up cling to my face – my pillow wears the rest. Five hours and fifteen mins after I left the Burlesque Royale afterparty I can still smell Immodesty’s perfume in my hair.

Has anyone seen my lower jaw? My last memory of it was when it hit the floor at Burlesque Royale. Oh my Lordy- Jesse –James-Crikey, what a line up!

Burlesque Royale wasn’t to everyone’s flavour however. Many left before the intermission. Many burlesque ‘virgins’ came on the night to see what it was all about, and thought burlesque was a load of  amateur rubbish.  The few seasoned ‘Burly Qs’ and die-hard fans who did come were united in their collective disappointment.

I myself am ambivalent about writing this review. I hope my dear readers will understand I am a supportive and objective voyeur. For me there were many highlights, but my own reputation is on the line here so I also need to be honest.  There’s my disclaimer – on with the show.

"What an act to try to follow!": Perle Noire is first to take to the stage...  (©Leo Bonne)
"What an act to try to follow!": Perle Noire is first to take to the stage... (©Leo Bonne)

Curtains open – Perle Noire from New Orleans appeared in a red dress and a delivered a perfectly executed classic strip down to the obligatory pasties and tuft-cover. Exit Perle Noire.
Seconds later Perle struts back on in a Josephine Baker feather skirt and tribal feathered headdress. Wow! Every beat was hit exactly; every quiver of the melody was orchestrated by this limber woman’s abundant frame. It’s a shame we only got to see her once on the night. What an act to try to follow!

Cue the theme from Shaft, on slinks Sydney’s Holly J’aDoll. Her take on the ‘disco diva’ created a healthy contrast to Perle, and with a good choice of songs the audience was taken high early. Holly’s ideas were fun and inventive and she certainly had the audience in the palm of her hand. Her costume was a dress made of records over a silver slip; her prop was a spinning turntable. Fabulous!  Holly is a 6ft glamazon with hot, sassy, attitude and I adore her. For only a year on the boards J’aDoll did an amazing job.  Holly was a perfect choice as a novice to introduce the ‘Sydney style’ that ran like a thread through the evening.

I can safely say the same for the unique Lauren LaRouge, also hailing from Sydney. Lauren’s take on the champagne glass act was an inspired parody.  Instead of a champagne glass, LaRouge bathed in a giant schooner glass as two blokes in singlets poured beer all over her. Initially I cringed, but as the act unfolded I saw the potential in this reinvention of the burlesque classic. ‘The Schooner’ act cheekily epitomizes Australian ‘yobbo’ culture and teased us on a satirical level rather than being a throbbing hit to the loins. I enjoyed Lauren’s use of narrative and her ideas reveal a great sense of humour. Okay, so she fluffed her lip-syncing and sure the prop was awkward. Lauren is a chanteuse and strip is new territory for her so it was great to see her take the plunge and shed some layers. I applaud her nerve. Cheers! Hic!

Lauren LaRouge (Left) and Holly J'aDoll (Right).  (©Leo Bonne)
Lauren LaRouge (Left) and Holly J'aDoll (Right). (©Leo Bonne)

Kalani Kokonuts appeared as an absolute vision wearing the kind of costume I’d have to sell my internal organs to be able to afford. I looked around to see two thousand bunnies in the headlights of a blinding bejewelled corset and giant ostrich boa tail – and then she actually did reveal her headlights. What a knockout!  I loved that there was an authentic modern stripper/ showgirl in the mix tonight and she is the epitome of the Vegas show pony.  Kalani’s smile is soooo exquisite and she is a consummate strutter. She leaves me thinking, ‘Stuff technique, circus, theatre and parody – l might just go back to being hot.’

Like an explosion, Melbourne’s Kelly Ann Doll seized the stage.  Tiny swing dancer Kelly-Ann has been working the circuit for some years now and it’s great to see her on this level. Her Roxanne routine is high drama and she fills every moment. This is the tale of two men fighting over a sexy minx and she flings herself around and over them at a speed that is thrilling. The Audience gasped when her partner nearly dropped her adding to the tension of this act. This is the standard I was longing to see from the Australian girls tonight. I love, love, love her insane level of skill and her intense delivery.  She brought the house down!

"What a knockout!": Kalani Kokonuts is the ultimate burlesque showgirl...  (©Leo Bonne)
"What a knockout!": Kalani Kokonuts is the ultimate burlesque showgirl... (©Leo Bonne)

In a complete contrast of mood we then had the delight of Chicago’s Michelle L’amour performing a virtuosic fan dance. This was spellbinding and beautiful. L’amour is a trained dancer and it shows. The act was highly skilled, sensual and technically perfect. The audience was enthralled and mesmerised; a lady with snow-white skin and snow white feathers – sigh. This act was a highlight with many giving it a standing ovation.

In the headlining Australian spot was the budding promoter herself – Danica Lee.
In an act that ran more like a segue; Danica Lee attempted to break the Guinness world record for most balloons popped. Out shuffled a mass of balloons, so many in fact that we couldn’t see the performer at all. This was a delightful sight – like a little monster. The music started; Danica applied herself to popping. This is a great idea and is visually hilarious. Once this act finds itself I think it will really get the crowd going. On the night the audience were reluctant to get involved and the act didn’t really shine. Danica has been performing burlesque for about five years; however, in my view, her decision to place herself between Michelle L’amour and Immodesty was a bit premature. That being said, here is a lass with oodles of potential. I’ve been calling her ‘Australia’s Mae West’, and she is definitely one to watch.

"Spellbinding and Beautiful": Michelle L'amour received a standing ovation...  (©Leo Bonne)
"Spellbinding and Beautiful": Michelle L'amour received a standing ovation... (©Leo Bonne)

Finally, the lady we’ve all been waiting for…

Swathed in a massive white fur mantle, Immodesty Blaize strides on. The stage is full of fur and popping up in the middle is this goddess’s face. The mantle was dispensed of and a stage manager/waif in ballet shoes vanishes under its mass. Sans fur, Immodesty is in a white dress that doesn’t last long – a few strings pulled and the cups fall off revealing her famous ta-tas. She turns around to reveal a porthole for her derriere; another humorous quirk to this already outrageous outfit. She pulls another string – the dress falls off and Immodesty is as naked as our laws will allow. She then clambers into a bath, onto the bath, around the bath, over the bath and poses – and poses – and smiles – and poses. That is all that this stunning woman needs to do to have the crowd roaring. And, while we are at it, let’s just drool as she puts on another insanely glamorous costume. Why? Because she can! On come more expensive sparkles and feathers, and what the hell – let’s just pose some more. Divine!

Immodesty is on the phone!

How does anyone make a giant phone sexy? If you’re Immodesty Blaize you just have to sit on the thing. Never mind the ‘why?’  To me this act has overtones of the absurdist humour of Monty Python and was very English. Yes – there were more killer costumes. Her blonde ‘freshly ravaged’ hairdo really does it for me. This woman is so charismatic she could bludgeon a baby seal and we’d all still scream for more.

"Divine!": Immodesty Blaize smoulders in her bath tub...   (©Leo Bonne)
"Divine!": Immodesty Blaize smoulders in her bath tub... (©Leo Bonne)

With a flick of her foot and a wink of her eye, she turns the dial and the act finishes.
I loved every hot, illogical minute. What a fascinating creature. I think I’m going to make an act around my own oversized domestic item and see if this formula can work for me. Perhaps a giant clothes peg. Or maybe a sifter…  An iron…  Or a teapot!

Supergirly was refreshing, feisty and funny, but I was not fond of her as an MC for this particular show. To her credit she held this patchwork quilt of an event together which was no mean feat. I found her ‘in the pub’ banter offensive and derogatory at times. Repetition of the words ‘slut’, ‘whore’ and encouraging the audience to scream out, ‘show us your tits’, took away from the class of the event. This is just my humble opinion; the audience generally loved her and it was exciting to encounter some new blood in the MC role.

Magicians Richard Vargas and Adam Mada both presented immaculate acts as always. It’s always tough to work as filler between the big acts, but these lads are always classy and well presented.

"With a flick of her foot and a wink of her eye, she turns the dial...": Immodesty Blaize teases on her telephone.   (©Leo Bonne)
"With a flick of her foot and a wink of her eye, she turns the dial...": Immodesty Blaize teases on her telephone. (©Leo Bonne)

Phew! What an epic event!

Somehow, though, despite this amazing plethora of bump and grind, I was left unsure of whether I enjoyed the show. I obviously loved each of the acts, but the essential magic was missing and the night felt somehow empty. ‘How strange’, I thought to myself – but in truth it was the line-up that was strange.

This is why I had hesitations about writing this review. I feel I need to be encouraging and praise the many positives, but how do I address the negatives without seeming like Mrs Mangles from Neighbours?

So here are my objective bits and pieces. I’ve included them to encourage constructive and open discussion in the burlesque world, or in the least help Danica in her pursuit to construct such monumental events.  I’m also curious if the following paragraphs relate to other burly cultures around the world or whether these issues are unique to Australia. Food for thought…

I think with two thousand punters in fixed seats and a high proscenium stage, the State Theatre was perhaps too austere for burlesque. I was in the fifth row and could count every Swarovski, but I can see how punters a little further back felt alienated.

I do wonder if promoters in Australia are getting a bit greedy of late and are collectively strangling our tiny circuit. (This is the fifth large-scale, expensive burlesque event Sydney has seen this year.) As I said to Danica: ‘this is an entrepreneur’s paradise and anyone can have a go’; but with walkouts like last night, our fabulous promoters need to take on board that they have a responsibility to maintain standards.  They are the magic makers. In such a competitive climate and the burlesque scene/reputation dwindling, it is important for us all to keep our standards high. Making loads of money is great, but the survival of our revival is in their hands.

If punters are paying $80 upwards for a ticket, a few grumblers are to be expected; but two hundred people walking out at intermission – that’s not just the two old men in The Muppets, that is a real problem. When punters pay big bucks for a ticket they expect top quality and last night they didn’t quite get it.

Kelly Ann Doll thrills the audience with an "insane level of skill and her intense delivery"...  (©Leo Bonne)
Kelly Ann Doll thrills the audience with an "insane level of skill and her intense delivery"... (©Leo Bonne)

A novice spot at the start of any event is a great way to showcase fresh talent. That being said, it doesn’t mean creating a night dotted with Aussie novices is a brilliant idea. Placing fresh local talent among seasoned world-class professionals is an exciting challenge, but left me missing the real stars of Oz.

The international acts were everything I expected them to be – big, glossy, immaculate and visually stunning. Time after time the line-up would return to local acts that, regardless of their gorgeous humility, humour and merit were not quite stage ready. Australia has some amazing world-class burlesque performers and this event could have done with some home-grown starlets who could have matched the performance quality of our guests – but there were none.

I was left wanting Kira Hula-la’s hula-hoops, Tiger Lil’s grinder, or Christa Hughes’ soaring vocals to follow Kelly Ann’s thunder. Danica is honest about her deliberate avoidance of our established/experienced performers, which has offended many and just plain baffled the rest of us. It is perhaps why the burlesque crowd stayed away in droves.

But if new blood is what this event was about, where was ‘Miss Burlesque Australia’, Rita Fontaine, or runner up Brianna Blue Bell?  Hmm… It was a very strange line up and most Australians are still scratching their heads.  Burlesque Royale lacked the integrity that an Australian headliner could have brought to the show, and the quality of the event suffered.

"Big, glossy, immaculate and visually stunning": The international guests gave world-class performances...  (©Leo Bonne)
"Big, glossy, immaculate and visually stunning": The international guests gave world-class performances... (©Leo Bonne)

It’s impossible to please everyone when you put on a show and I certainly don’t get it right every time.  But on such a grand scale, it’s a loss for our budding circuit that those two hundred disgruntled punters who walked out won’t be paying for burlesque again. Burlesque is starting to get a very poor reputation in these parts.  We really need to keep our quality performers present on the circuit or our little scene will fall down the proverbial rabbit hole and disappear.

On a final note, what has stayed with me beyond the event is what an amazing melting pot of cultures Burlesque Royale was. We had women from all different burly scenes around the world – from New Orleans to Las Vegas, from the UK and Chicago. I am particularly excited that Burlesque Royale is going to Melbourne, which has a thriving scene but really doesn’t get enough exposure to the ‘Sydney style’.

What is the ‘Sydney style’? It is very ‘neo’, uses narrative, and makes great use of comedy and character. I wonder if it will be better received down south.  If this is what Danica, Lauren, Holly and Supergirly are doing now, I can’t wait to see them in a few years time.

Danica Lee is a daring breath of fresh air as a promoter and I hope she continues to bring amazing acts to our shores. Thank you Danica.

To Immodesty, Kalani, Michelle and Perle Noire – thank you for the inspiration – I’m off to get some overpriced spangles, masses of ostrich boa, some new moves and a giant teaspoon…

www.BurlesqueRoyale.com.au

Reviewed by Imogen Kelly

Australia’s ‘First Lady of striptease’ – Imogen Kelly is an international showgirl of twenty years experience and has ‘dazzled on every level of showgirl stardom’. From the Moulin Rouge kick lines, peep shows in Tokyo, Japanese topless weddings, gypsy circus tours in Europe, Mardi Gras extravaganzas, the Sydney Opera House, as a veteran of La Clique, to award winning burlesque theatre shows, including a five star show at the Edinburgh Festival. She is also a professional trapeze artist/ aerialist and film maker.

3 Comments
  1. “Danica is honest about her deliberate avoidance of our established/experienced performers…”

    I have to ask… why?

  2. Thanks for this review Imogen, i find it important to listen out for how things are going on the Australian scene, as, ultimately, it’s a world scene. It’s also interesting that industry parallels are occuring pretty much everywhere.

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