Tango and Tapdance! Bananas and Balloons! Opium and Opulence!
After so much anticipation, build-up and preamble, The Gentry de Paris Revue with Dita von Teese finally premiered this week.
21:CB has been at rehearsal, hanging out backstage, attending the press conference and enjoying opening night – and now we can share some thoughts and images with all of you.
All of the hard work and attention to detail was evident, and from all I have heard from cast members and those that have attended the show after us, the production gets better and better every single night!
There is so much to say about this highly anticipated production. It is both an easy to watch, dreamy escapism, and an engrossing, edgy display of dance, song and striptease. The pace and mood varies beautifully, without ever breaking the spell, and everyone plays their part with total dedication.
From the moment you enter the Casino de Paris, the atmosphere is somehow special. The history of this theatre, and what has taken place on the stage, is truly mindblowing. Josephine Baker and Mistinguett both performed here, and being backstage in the dressing rooms and walking the corridors was a truly spiritual experience for me, and continues to be every night for many of the cast.
Gentry herself, I know, is all too aware of this, but wanted to stress that this went beyond a straightforward homage to the past. ‘We are not doing a re-enactment – it’s an evolution,’ she said in the press conference. ‘It’s a lot more fast paced … We are taking burlesque out of the clubs and putting it back on the stage where it belongs…’
The show itself is a series of interlinking tableaux, transporting us to a variety of locations. From a vintage nightclub, to a fairground, to the heavens above; with various performances and musical numbers throughout. And to crown each half, Dita delivers a masterful striptease showpiece – including the European debut of ‘The Opium Den’; her latest, and some say her greatest, act to date.
I myself was especially impressed with the consistantly high calibre of the cast in all areas of performance. The vocalists were excellent, the dancers were so dedicated, and the striptease was sumptuous. And when their turn came to play the extra, every cast member was spot-on in their supporting role.
The singers, without exception, were excellent, and with voices perfectly suited and expertly chosen for this production.
The three ‘Dandy Chanteurs’, Sinan Bertrand, Olivier Brietman and Vincent Heden, sang beautifully together, swaying humorously to the music and retaining tight harmony.
Sophie Tellier was so expressive and funny – you were almost pleasantly distracted from the fact that she is also a fine singer and gorgeous to boot – and then the clothes start coming off!
Nathalie Lhermitte was captivating. When she opens her mouth, Edith Piaf comes out. She has a voice that can be both poignant and powerful, and it works wonderfully in this context. Another immensely talented, beautiful woman, with such a vocal gift…
The musicians, harpist Myriam Serfass and accordionists Sebastien Debard and Aurelien Noel, also deserve praise. They accompanied the cast with skill and consistency, and the live accompaniment really enhanced the production, and added a dimension of authenticity to certain scenes.
The Gentry Girls danced with attitude and agility. All deliciously pretty and engaging; the girls each had a personality and presence of their own.
A special mention has to go to choreographer Brian Scott Bagley, who gives a truly stunning, spine tingling performance in the nightclub scene of the first half.
The moment he appears in silhouette on the steps, in the classic banana skirt, it is as if Josephine Baker herself is among us; reincarnated on the stage. His every gesture and fluid movement is truly extraordinary – I would go as far as to call it an iconic performance. Not to mention the credit due for his choreographic skills.
‘The day that Gentry and I met for the first time to discuss the show and myself as choreographer, we met at the café across the street from the Folies Begere. Where else of course! ‘ He told me.
‘As I read through the script I realised that the show she had written was very nice but missing something. So my imagination started running. I myself had written a theatre piece called ‘Josefiend’ – a story of a young man who lost his mother and turn he then turns to drugs to soothe his hurt. Because of the hurt and the drugs, and his mother’s adoration for Josephine Baker, he begins to go in and out of personalities; his mother, himself, and Josephine Baker. I saw this as a great opportunity to workshop the Josephine Baker part of my show ‘Josefiend’ … I never thought that this humble theatre piece when matched with The Gentry de Paris Revue would lead to a journalist calling me ‘the new Black Pearl’. It blows my mind and humbles me as well … I am so thankful for the adventure…’
And so to the striptease; supplied by Julietta la Doll, Millicent Binks, Warren Speed, Gentry de Paris herself, and of course, Dita von Teese…
Julietta la Doll has such natural charm and beauty – she provides effortless enjoyment. She looks like a young, up-and-coming 1930’s movie star, and has a megawatt smile that could put the lighting technician out of a job!
Julietta begins the show, appearing in an amusing and very creative silent movie, which sees her transform from a put-upon maid to groomed starlet. As the film fades, Julietta appears in her new guise, and strips delightfully on the Ziegfeld style bakelite steps, to the strains of ‘I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise’. She takes centre-stage again in Act 2 as a pretty-in-pink balloon pop; all smiles and eyes and coy sex appeal.
Always a delight; Julietta is really worth seeing when performing her established acts too. Both beautiful and a legitimate talent, she shouldn’t be underestimated.
Millicent Binks is developing quite a reputation, due to a stunning portfolio of images, and for the highly original ‘English Rose’ routine, which she performs in this show. As dark and exquisite as Julietta is fair and charming; the two of them make a beguiling pair.
Millicent plays a half rose, half maiden sideshow attraction, in a beautifully put together costume with removable petals, which she plucks away one by one to reveal a lithe, elegant figure. The routine is both refined and a little tongue in cheek; there is a lovely moment when she draws out a rose from her bodice and holds it between her teeth.
A classic beauty with an undoubtedly exciting future ahead of her; Millicent told me how thrilled she is to be a part of this production, and it shows in her performance.
Warren Speed, the token burlesque male of the piece, has had a truly incredible reception from the Casino de Paris audience, and it is no less than he deserves.
His act, which begins seemingly in keeping with what has come before (a shy Chaplinesque figure; all coy gestures and eager to please), only to break into a medley of contemporary classics with a flash of ‘assles’, comes at the perfect time, and injects a little fun and surprise. If Warren took himself too seriously in this routine, or tried too hard, it just wouldn’t work; but it is so effortless and yet with such studied attention to detail – it is as professional and polished as any other performance. The whooping, screaming and clapping was really something to hear!
Gentry… Where to begin? She really has created something to be proud of, and participates with a majestic elegance and poise. Her crowning moment is in the most opulent, dreamlike sequence of all, among the clouds, as she descends in a huge glittering star and floats across the stage en-pointe, surrounded by the Gentry Girls and a mass of white feathers. She appears again in the second act, this time in a beautiful red gown, strutting and stripping to ‘It’s Too Darn Hot’.
What a marvellous job she has done; she never ceases to surprise and surpass all expectation with her creativity, drive and vision, and when she performs she gives it everything she has. Truly inspiring…
As the curtains rose during Act 1, to reveal that iconic glass, and the silhouette of the woman to the side of it, we all knew what was coming, and a murmur of anticipation rippled through the theatre. Undoubtedly a draw for the more mainstream audience demographic, and her adoring fans world wide, Dita demonstrated just how and why she has earned her reputation. To say she was on form would be an understatement.
I love the ‘Be Cointreuversial’ glass act. It is an edgier, visually gorgeous update of the classic original, with a fabulous soundtrack and splendid costume. Dita twinkles and shimmers from head to foot, wrapped in a fabulous thick boa of rich orange, before gradually peeling all the magnificent layers away and climbing into her glass, where she frolics with a coiled orange peel sponge. Wonderful – just delightful.
I have feasted on every morsel of footage and imagery of Dita’s new show, and I could hardly sit still in my seat during the dress rehearsal, waiting for the moment at the end of the show, when Dita would perform The Opium Den, which I had the privilege of watching from only a few feet away…
STUNNING. What a spectacle! The lights come up on Dita, reclining within her den, smoking her opium pipe. Then, the doors are opened, and she descends towards us in a costume I don’t think I can do literary justice to. Catherine D’Lish has done a breathtaking job in creating this – it’s a moving wearable work of art! It glitters so powerfully it almost blinds you, and it moves with Dita’s body and gestures beautifully. The pace is deliciously languid and indulgent – she appears to spend the entire nine minutes in a rapturous haze of opium and desire, and it infects you.
It all builds towards the end of the piece when, writhing and intoxicated in her den, three pairs of red gloved hands come snaking out from behind her and caress her as the music and sensation builds – climaxing in a shower of red petals that cascade from above and shower the stage.
Again, the soundtrack for this routine was simply brilliant. The music stirred such emotion in me – I was just so impressed with what Dita has put together. She explained in the press conference that she wanted to ‘do something a little bit darker, a little more wicked, a little more sexual’, and I believe she has achieved that. There was a new depth and context to this performance – it was dark, it was affecting. A feast for the senses…
All in all, a lovely way to spend an evening – you can lose yourself in fantasy for an hour or two and enjoy all the hard work and talent, which I was thrilled to see come together so wonderfully…
There is still time to grab a ticket and get over to this historic venue for a spectacular show folks! It really is worth it – you will be humming the tunes and remembering the sights and strips for a long time…
All our congratulations to Gentry, Dita, Julietta, Brian, Warren, Millicent, The Girls, The Boys, to Nathalie and Sophie, and the entire cast, crew and team.
Burlesque Hall of Fame / Miss Exotic World Judge, 2011 Holli Mae Johnson is the founder and editor of 21st Century Burlesque Magazine, a pioneering publication created twelve years ago to unite, document and celebrate the global burlesque community. Holli is actively involved in the burlesque community on a day to day basis and is privately consulted by performers and producers at every level for promotion, critique, recommendations and encouragement. As a documenter and critic, she has seen countless burlesque and variety performances from across the world and provides an intimate perspective and insight into the lives and careers of burlesque’s greatest pioneers, performers and personalities.