Roxi D’Lite’s Boom Boom Burlesque reviewed by Katie Hargreaves.
It’s only just past 7pm, and already a line is forming outside Windsor, Ontario’s Boom Boom Room nightclub. Located on Windsor’s main bar strip, it’s not odd to see dozens of club-goers teetering on their high heels outside the bar. On this pleasant Saturday evening, however, the sun is still shining as the gathering crowd waits eagerly to be allowed in. Some pedestrians appear perplexed as they pass dapper gentlemen and elegantly decked-out women in vintage dresses, flowers in their hair and corset lacing up their backs. Of course, some of those in line aren’t quite so dressed up, but most seem to have decided that this event is one worth digging out the stilettos and a little bit of extra lipstick for.
As the VIP line starts to move, those waiting for general admission perk up, hoping to get inside quickly and nab the best seats available. I can’t blame them, because I am among them in the excitement. For months since it was first announced, I’ve been anticipating Boom Boom Burlesque, set to be the biggest burlesque show Windsor has ever seen…
Headlining and producing the show is Windsor’s own Roxi D’Lite, back in her hometown after touring extensively, shooting a film, and being crowned Reigning Queen of Burlesque (Miss Exotic World) 2010. I’ve seen Roxi perform many times in Windsor and Detroit, whether solo, as part of a charity fundraiser, or in collaborative projects, such as starring in the burlesque-inspired Alice in Wonderland show Wonderland. Over the years, her shows have grown more ambitious, her props more elaborate and her costumes, if possible, more sparkly. Boom Boom Burlesque appears to be the next step in this progression toward bigger and better, while at the same time, bringing it back to the city where, for Roxi, it all started.
I have to admit I did a double take when I first saw the poster for Boom Boom Burlesque hanging downtown Windsor because I had to be sure I was not mistaken. As a bit of a burlesque nerd, it was a surprise and a treat for me to see Roxi bringing in a group of world-class burlesque performers to Windsor. I was particularly looking forward to seeing New York’s Peekaboo Pointe and Julie Atlas Muz in person, as well as what looked like a good mix of boylesque and newer performers.
The night of the show, I, along with dozens of other early-arriving spectators, file into the Boom Boom Room. Those with VIP tickets cozy-in with their booths and bottle service. As for me, I quickly nab a seat on a ledge a few feet from the stage and make sure not to move and lose my amazing view.
As vintage striptease footage projects onto the stage wall, I notice a young performer dressed in a sort of toy soldier garb and impeccable clown make-up making her way through the audience. I recognize her as Hayley Jane, ‘Detroit’s Living Doll’, from her vocal performance in Wonderland, for which she also designed the costumes. Performing burlesque since 2008, the multi-talented Hayley Jane is an extremely promising and ambitious up-and-coming performer in the Detroit area. At only twenty-one years old, she just returned from a summer tour with Cockabilly records, has performed with Detroit’s Theatre Bizarre, teaches burlesque classes, and is running for the title of Miss Michigan 2012.
While I assume Hayley Jane will be the stage kitten for the evening, I’m pleased to see her take to the stage to the sound of a music box. With all the big names on the evening’s billing, it is impressive to see an up-and-coming local artist amongst them as she works to make a name for herself on the burlesque circuit. Almost immediately, the audience quiets their chatter, as Hayley wobbles and teeters in the spotlight like a wind-up doll. One of Hayley Jane’s many strengths is in her ability to tell a story with her act, not only with her body, but with her facial expressions. Even through the heavy makeup, her face communicates to the back of the room, and as the music speeds up and her clothes start coming off, her cheeky grin has everyone paying attention.
As the audience cheers their applause for Hayley Jane, the incomparable Miss Astrid takes to the stage with a reprimand for the young stripteuse. It seems Hayley Jane has been a naughty girl and left her “stripper droppings” all over the stage. Of course, she has to learn her lesson and so Hayley Jane becomes the evening’s stage kitten, always ready to sweep up a stray glove or hand off a feather fan when it’s needed.
Miss Astrid, hailing all the way from New York City, brings her wit, shiny and tough as her leather boots, to Windsor and takes no time warming up the audience, demanding to know where the “burlesque virgins” in the house are. For a town with quite the reputation when it comes to loving a good striptease, a surprising number in the crowd have come to Boom Boom Burlesque as first-timers. Not to worry, as Miss Astrid promises to be gentle. She starts off the night, fittingly, with a tease, namely the teaser trailer for Burlesque Assassins, a film shot in Calgary, which stars Roxi D’Lite herself, who gets a big cheer when she appears on the screen.
This is the perfect cue for the woman everyone has been waiting to see. Roxi D’Lite appears in a dramatic orange dress for her first act in her homecoming show, ‘Junglesque’. It’s clear that Windsor has a great affection for Ms. D’Lite, who has many friends and family in the audience. Even for those who don’t know her personally, burlesque fans in Windsor take pride in knowing that last year’s Reigning Queen of Burlesque hails from our little city. Roxi’s act is smooth and elegant, as we have come to expect from her. While her impressive gymnastic displays get big cheers, a lot of her appeal is in the little things in her act and her mastery of burlesque classics, like the flawless removal of opera gloves or the seamless slipping out of a bra, all of which she does while sporting her trademark smile. As she leaves the stage to great applause, Roxi’s aerial hoop still hangs off to one side, assuring those in the know of far more to come later on in the evening.
Next up, it’s time for a little boylesque, and if the Windsor audience is new to burlesque, this first male act is certainly an eye opener. U.K. performance artist, ‘Sealboy’ Mat Fraser not only takes the first male spot on the revue, performing a striptease down to his undies, he is also the only performer on the billing to remove more than just his clothes. Born with phocomelia of both arms, the name of which means ‘seal limb’, hence his stage name, Sealboy proceeds to strip off shirt, pants, and both prosthetic arms. After Roxi’s glamorous striptease, Sealboy is certainly a contrast, and it is amusing not only to watch his inspired performance, but the audience reactions as he removes each arm by tugging them off between his thighs. At this early point in the show, I’m pleased to see that Boom Boom Burlesque features performers from many different spectrums of the genre, and as Sealboy leaves the stage, I am eager to see what comes next.
Miss Astrid asks the audience to please give Mat Fraser a big hand, because of course, the pun must be made that he could use one. However, I’m not sure what’s to come as she announces that one of the next set of performers may actually have one hand too many.
Now that the audience has taken in a little burlesque, “just the tip” as Miss Astrid so modestly puts it, she wants to introduce the kind of girl she likes best: a lazy one. Drunk and lazy girls are the best, she’s sure, and she invites us to see why as she introduces fellow New Yorker, Peekaboo Pointe.
For an audience that is just warming up to the idea of burlesque, Peekaboo’s ‘lazy burlesque’ act is perhaps a bit unexpected at first. In line before the show, I overheard more than a few conversations amongst the waiting audience over ‘what exactly is burlesque?’ Most people seemed to have the idea that it often involves stripping, but anything beyond that was likely to be a new experience. Striding onto the stage already in her g-string and pasties and with an expression of intense boredom on her face, Peekaboo continues what Mat Fraser started with his act: she gets the Boom Boom audience familiar with my personal favourite aspect of burlesque, the humour. She twirls her tassels with her hands, and a look on her face that says, ‘this is all you’re getting. Tough.’ As the song goes on, more and more of the audience catch on to the fact that yes, burlesque is funny, and as Peekaboo turns to move one cheek of her bum at a time on beat with the music, the laughter really starts to build.
With four performances already through, the atmosphere is energetic and lively at the Boom Boom Room as Miss Astrid introduces Stage Door Johnnies member Ray Gunn. Hailing from Chicago, the Johnnies also combine humour with their sex appeal, and Ray Gunn definitely has both. While his costume at first seems a little shapeless, a suit with some sort of wood grain pattern and a large wooden button, many of the ladies in the crowd start getting very excited to see the tear-away potential of his trousers. With two more Johnnies to go after the intermission, Ray Gunn gives the audience a very sexy tease of more Johnnies action to come. And don’t worry boys if you found it hot, Miss Astrid assures everyone, “it doesn’t mean you’re gay. It means you still have a pulse.”
The final performer in the first half of the show is Julie Atlas Muz, Queen of Burlesque 2006, and one of New York’s icons of the genre, perhaps best known for her, ‘I Am the Moon and You are the Man on Me’ act. Tonight there are no bubbles in sight, but Miss Astrid was right when she mentioned an extra hand at hand. It seems that Ms. Muz has a bit of an Evil Dead problem in that the severed hand she has to deal with has a mind of its own. One of the things I love about Julie Atlas Muz is that she is definitely not afraid to be silly and over-the-top. The way she combines horror culture with her acts strikes me as very original and dynamic, and a great counter-balance to the strictly glamourous side of burlesque. Julie and her severed hand’s naughty motives have the audience almost in tears with laughter by the time she slinks offstage.
I get the chance to quickly congratulate Roxi on a fantastic show so far during the intermission, and have her assurance that, “it gets even better!” My voice is already getting sore from cheering, and each performer has seemed spot on, so I’m not sure what to expect as we move into the second half of the show, but that aerial hoop is still hanging off to one side, and this line-up of all-stars all have another act to put on. The second half is certainly going to be good.
Sealboy, Mat Fraser is back, having donned a suit jacket, and has a few minutes of comedy for the audience, fittingly tailored to Canada with the obligatory seal-hunt joke. Again, it’s nice to see some variety outside of striptease included in a burlesque review, hearkening back to the old school stand-up comedy in vaudeville shows. Fraser proves he too is many-talented as, cue music, he gives us a surprisingly faithful rendition of Sinatra’s ‘Witchcraft’, complete with Julie Atlas Muz in the role of the wicked witch. Her wickedness extends to ripping the head off a baby doll and consuming its glittery innards. While some of the audience seems a bit put off by this, all I can think is, it’s burlesque! It’s over-the-top and ridiculous at times, and if you’re shocked, it’s probably doing its job. However, from the chatter in the audience, for some this particular portion is a bit too much.
Before Muz’s witchy antics raise any more eyebrows, the Stage Door Johnnies re-appear, this time as a group, introducing us to the two other members in the trio. The choreography in their 1960s-style group dance is impressive, as is their synchronicity with such wild dance moves, and it’s clear that they’ve all had experience in the performance and dance genre. This is the same act that won them the Best Group award at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend this past June. Drinks are flowing heavily in the audience and as the boys strip down to almost nothing, some of the women nearby are on their feet cheering before the act is even over.
There’s more from the Johnnies to come, with an act each from Bazuka Joe and Jett Adore. But first, a sexy dance off with three brave volunteers pulled from the audience with no idea what they will have to do for their prize. Ultimately, despite a strong showing from two young ladies, the ironic winner of a cut and colour at a local salon goes to a man with very little hair, something Miss Astrid does not fail to point out.
Peekaboo Pointe returns to the stage with her sexy cat number to a soundtrack that feels straight of a 1960s spy movie. With her dancer’s moves, Peekaboo is clearly a pro and has the audience cheering wildly as she crawls over her black shag rug and shimmies and shakes with her signature super speedy east to west tassel twirl.
Just in case the audience didn’t get enough boylesque action from the amateur dance contest, Stage Door Johnny Bazuka Joe turns up just in time in his towel for his ‘Steam Heat’ act. How is he going to spend an entire song stripping out of just a towel? Easily, when you have as many gradually shortening towels as Bazuka Joe does. Like the other Johnnies, Joe combines both a flair for performance and humour with a body that has many in the audience going wild as the towels get shorter and he treats himself to a bit of an onstage shower.
With one Johnny left to see, it’s the ladies’ turn again as Julie Atlas Muz returns as a drunken showgirl puffing on a pair of cigarettes. Again, Muz isn’t afraid to be silly instead of necessarily sexy all the time, and by the end of her act, with her bra hanging from her fishnet where it got caught on its way to the floor, my face is sore from laughing so hard.
With the show winding down and only two more acts to go, I’m surprised to hear ‘Nessun Dorma’ come through the speakers for Jett Adore’s ‘Peacock Masquerade’. Not exactly the music I expect at a burlesque show. Halfway through his act, a woman behind me declares to her friend, “this is no longer stripping. This is art,” and she can’t be more correct. This boylesquer actually convincingly turns himself into a peacock, hiding under his cape, peacock mask on his hand. As the music builds with great intensity, he exposes a leg out of his peacock cape, finally waiting for the big reveal as the song climaxes. To say I am blown away is an absolute understatement.
Last but very certainly not least, the hometown hero, Ms. Roxi D’Lite, emerges from backstage to close the show. All night, near the merch booth, a banner of Roxi has been hanging featuring her in her Queen of Burlesque glory in a spectacular beaded gown, and this is the outfit in which Roxi D’Lite takes to the stage to massive applause. She fittingly closes the show with some classics, including a fan dance performed to a slinky old-school soundtrack. Just when she seems to be finished, the aerial hoop swings onto the stage, and Roxi is ready for her signature acrobatic act, learned from a Cirque de Soleil performer.
With what must be tremendous upper and lower body strength, Roxi appears to effortlessly contort herself around her spinning hoop, and it is clear why this multi-talented performer took home 2010’s Reigning Queen (Miss Exotic World) title.
As all the performers return to the stage for their bows, I look around and see many members of the audience beaming and realize so am I. My face still hurts from laughing so hard and will do for hours later. My voice will be gone in the morning from cheering and enthusiastically going over all the best parts of the show with my friends in the audience. It seems as if, whether or not they even knew what burlesque was going into the show, Windsorites who attended Boom Boom Burlesque certainly got an impressive, varied, and world-class taste of it.
Reviewed by Katie Hargreaves.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.