21st Century Fox here, bringing you more New York Burlesque Festival action direct from my basement! (Thanks for the (admittedly hilarious) ‘plug’ Murray.)
Dazzled by my first experience of Times Square at night, I and my trusty pal Verity Vale picked and pushed through the gawking clusters of tourists and made it to the legendary B. B. King club, which lived up to all my expectations. The previous two evenings were very enjoyable, but this venue had a special atmosphere, glamour and warmth, and as we took our seats and glanced at our programmes to remind ourselves of the line-up to come, I could practically smell the anticipation for the Saturday Spectacular which would shortly get underway.
Before I launch into my burlesque highlights, I want to mention the OUTSTANDING set from the sickeningly smooth, charming and talented Brian Newman (festival producer Angie Pontani’s husband, incidentally) and his band, who warmed us up with some superbly arranged jazz classics, as well as an original song from Brian which got us all singing along. The solos demonstrated mind-blowing skill and flair; it was first class entertainment. (Brian and band recently backed up none other than Lady Gaga on Saturday Night Live – check it out here!)
Okay, straight to my striptease standouts…
Someone had to start the show and Missy Lisa embraced the challenge, and then some. She performed the act that won her the Miss Viva Las Vegas crown earlier in the year, and it really is a cracking routine which has elevated her in the ever-increasing pack of young, pretty, classic performers. It’s strong and smouldering from the get go, with plenty of energy and attack, knowing looks and infectious smiles. She skilfully removes her beautiful white gown, working the whole stage and engaging the crowd, and then launches into a vivacious and athletic second half as Shivas Regal pounds out of the speakers. Yes, it’s used all too frequently, but she really used it well, staying right on the beat and performing some effortless squat-to-standing manoeuvres without breaking a sweat. It was a delightful, triumphant start to the night.
Keeping the standard high was the fabulously foxy Gal Friday, wearing a stunning, exquisite skirt which she manipulated beautifully. Her fingers were graceful and enticing, eyes as fiery and intense as always, demanding your attention. Then it got really raunchy as she dropped into a box split from behind, grinning at us over her shoulder with her flame red hair falling around her face, and then finished us off with a hot and fast tassel twirl. Great stuff.
London lush Kitty Bang Bang took a slight departure from her usual style and debuted a classic piece, set to the popular Victor/Victoria number Le Jazz Hot. She began in shadow, lit by an ingeniously simple but effective device – a light inside her black top hat, which she moved over her body. Then the lights came up to reveal her scandalously see-through black lace gown and a tumbling mass of dark gypsy hair as she thrust her hands wide, bit off her gloves, and bumped, sashayed and undulated like the pro she is. Then, in a classic Kitty moment, she loses a pastie and – ‘Oh, fuck it!’ – rips off the other one and finishes with a flourish. Cue hilarious post-act scramble with Murray Hill as he presses the pasties back on and she backs precariously off the stage. A thrilling first attempt with all of her typical charisma and abandon; I know this one will get better and better.
Mr Gorgeous. Like, ridiculously, Disney prince gorgeous (wait for what he did on Sunday Night – stay tuned!) He began his ice-cream themed number by chin-balancing a plate of sundaes on a pole, while stripping. You know, just to warm up. Once he had stripped off his sprinkle-covered stockings and flirted with us behind a giant wafer, he cavorted on top of a man-sized ice-cream cone and brought it all home by sticking a large, sparkly cherry to his briefs (as if we needed an incentive to let our eyes wander in that direction!) It was a resounding hit with the crowd; the man has undeniable X factor.
Enter the devastating slayer of crowds everywhere, the regal and ravishing Perle Noire, peacocking in a dazzling green and blue ensemble. Milking every beat of More Bumps and Grinds and guiding our eyes expertly, she devoured us with every stare and tremor of her body, building up the intensity before sending the audience mad with a signature drop split. Moving from controlled, smooth movement to complete physical abandon, every inch of this fabulous woman is commanding and sensuous. First rate. (She also brought the house down in Dita Von Teese’ Strip Strip Hooray! a few days later when I saw the show.)
The New York Burlesque Festival welcomed and celebrated two burlesque legends this year, Tiffany Carter and April March. They both taught classes and discussed their careers in a special panel session, and on Saturday night, Tiffany Carter took to the stage. Prowling onto the stage to Me and Mrs Jones in a gorgeous blue gown with a rose between her teeth, she took us all in with a long, predatory stare, before treating us a to an oh-so-seductive classic strip, full of blush-inducing little touches and details. Watch and learn, newcomer and veteran alike! Before long everyone was on their feet, and I was so happy to see all the festival goers – even those who aren’t used to seeing older women celebrated and stripping on stage as they do at BHoF – stand to applaud and acknowledge an incredible woman.
I salute festival producer Angie Pontani for somehow finding the time and composure to present a new act to us at the festival: ‘Madame Pompadour’. As always the costume was exquisite: gown, cage, corset, pantaloons and shoes all matching and trimmed in flowers. Her initial coy gentility went out of the window quickly as the tempo stepped up and Angie went wild. The choreography seemed a little too loose here and there and the end was rather abrupt, but it’s a new number and I know it will be tightened up as this expert entertainer plays around with it.
As the night began to build to its climax, Indigo Blue moved into position to deliver her triple fan dance. The moody strains of Summertime filled the air as Indigo danced in a cool, hazy light, engaging us with her signature combination of sensuality and playfulness. She wielded three pairs of fans in turn, each set smaller and used more intimately than the last. Eventually, the three pairs were combined into two large triple fans, and the effect was beautiful. Her final reveal received rapturous applause; the whole act was enchanting and transporting.
Cue giant, amazingly realistic banana centre-stage, ready for Trixie Little to perform a tribute to her absent Evil Hate Monkey. Oh, the details, people, the details! A dress that peels down in strips like a banana, and – most ingenious and hilarious of all – the fingers of her gloves peeled too! Just awesome. She began by shamelessly and suggestively devouring a huge mouthful of banana before removing her dress and gloves as I described and mounting her giant prop with a handstand, writhing and grinding all over it. Suddenly, the pasties were gone and confetti was shooting from between her legs, showering the stage in Monkey love. Another inspired and highly entertaining offering from Trixie.
As is tradition, Tigger! was last to go in the Saturday Spectacular and brought the show to a close as only he can. Performing his long-time classic ‘Gender Surrender’, he attacked each stereotype with all of his usual commitment and merciless punch and pace. Those incredible jump-and-drop splits just kill me every time. Way to send us all home… or next door to Lucille’s for the after party anyway.
Other nods and notes: Luna Eclipse lit up the room with her smile and sunny Australian personality, and her costume was just beautiful. The Maine Attraction began a slow, elegant, seductive dance to one of my favourite Buena Vista Social Club songs, making us wait for every reveal before plunging into the audience to perform one of her infamous, almost pornographic frenzied lap dances. Coco Lectric was her usual vivacious, curvaceous self in a sea of white ruffles; it’s all about the face with Coco – her Bambi eyes and megawatt smile are captivating. Orchid Mei glistened in the low light with a lush black boa, and despite a slight stagger and close call with her pasties, her glove removal segment was great. I always take my hat off to Peggy De Lune for managing to maintain such a strong vocal and character and perform all the physical comedy and striptease at the same time in her ‘Chicago’ number. Amber Ray was a real crowd favourite, crowned by one of her luscious flower headdresses and treating us to some mesmerising independent breast flexing! I loved Kitten LaRue’s feisty attitude and playfulness, mashing her bubble gum and teasing us with her zips; a delightful vision in fluorescent pink and turquoise. Finally, I’m still processing Agent Lynch’s performance, to be honest. Her Sound of Music medley was one of the most random and slightly disturbing acts I’ve seen in a long time. On a few occasions I couldn’t work out if I was witnessing deliberate, intentional mistakes or genuine slip-ups amid the chaos. Stage manager David Bishop’s horrified face when he surveyed the carnage at the end of the number was priceless. Totally insane or insanely genius? You decide!
Finally, a glittering gold star to host Murray Hill for holding it all together with his classic arsenal of laughs, insults, physical comedy and, of course, devastating sex appeal. He’s hosted the Saturday Night show for the full eleven years of the festival (“Eleven years and no career growth!”) and I can’t imagine anyone else doing the job.
Almost there now! Sunday Night Golden Pastie Awards coming up soon…
Full Gallery: New York Burlesque Festival 2013 Saturday Spectacular. Click to browse, hover for caption.
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.