Want to get an education in the art of burlesque? The Nightingale Theater will provide just that when Eye Candy Burlesque and the Horse Meat Flea Circus Naughty Vaudeville and Cabaret present The School for Red Hot Mamas this weekend and next.
Featuring live original music, comedy bits and striptease artistry by some of Tulsa's most glamorous dames, the show will explore the full range of high-brow/low-brow dichotomies with which this style of entertainment plays.
As with so many Nightingale productions, behind the slightly shocking exterior lies genuine theatrical professionalism, emotional insight and a lot of hard work.
The show's concept came from research that Nightingale proprietor Sara Cruncleton (a.k.a. Bossy L'Amour) was doing on Sophie Tucker, a Russian-born American burlesque superstar in the early 20th century, said Sara Wilemon, a.k.a. Ilsa the Wolf, who was recently crowned "Queen of Kansas City Burlesque" at the 2011 Kansas City Burlesque Festival.
Cruncleton was particularly taken with Tucker's spoken-word number "The School for Red Hot Mamas," which Wilemon described as "saucy and wonderfully tongue-in-cheek.
"The more we talked about the number, the more we saw all the staging possibilities for it to be a burlesque piece," Wilemon said. "The next thing we knew, it was the inspiration for a whole show."
The Nightingale Theater, already Tulsa's go-to venue for risk-taking creativity, has become a hotbed for the region's burgeoning burlesque and vaudeville scene. Since early 2000, as part of its mission to support local artists, the theater has welcomed performers from both genres onto its stage, most recently in 2009's Freakonomic Stimulus Package. Such collaborations have proven to be a huge hit among audiences, and with this full-length show the theater hopes to continue the trend in a classic variety format.
The Calamities (John Cruncleton, John Finnerty, and Steve Beard), Eric Strauss and Viola Firmata (Amy Carlin Lee) will provide the evening's music, with Andy Axewell, Strauss, Shulders LaRouche (Christin Richardson) and Lady Tenderbits (Amy Page) as the vaudeville players.
Among the burlesque artists will be Ilsa the Wolf, Lu Foxxx, Xanaboobs, Bammy Calamity, and guest performers "pyro-tassel twirler Poppy Pie of TwoLips Burlesk and the one and only queen of draglesque Nikki Trash." Bossy L'Amour will serve as the evening's "headmistress."??
There's plenty of tantalizing singing and dancing on the agenda, but -- literally and figuratively -- but there's more to the art form than meets the eye.
"The most important factor to me in all burlesque, whether it is a more classic, glamorous piece, or a modern, more sexually explicit piece, is that it is about the character of the performer, the story that is to be told, and that the 'tease' is the focus of the piece," Cruncleton said.
"What draws me first and foremost," Wilemon added, "is the thrill of performing. I am a theater actress, and to me, this can be an extension of acting, albeit heightened and covered in glitter. Burlesque allows me to take a lot of things that I love -- dancing, music, vintage fashion and style, and sparkly things -- and combine them into one artistic endeavor."
Wilemon said the troupe is unafraid of taking some "creative liberties," but said the goal is to put on a classic vaudeville and burlesque show.
"(Cruncleton) and I recently read the latest Gypsy Rose Lee biography 'American Rose,' and we were both highly influenced by the descriptions of the shows being produced at the Ziegfeld Follies and at the Minsky brothers' theaters," she said. "We want the audience to experience that vintage style. Burlesque isn't just girls taking their tops off. The burlesque and vaudeville performers of the golden age were dedicated and talented performers. It was their art and craft. They honed their skills. We are the same way. We put a lot of work into our routines and costumes. What we do may sometimes be low-brow fun, but it will always be high quality work."
The School for Red Hot Mamas runs Friday and Saturday, June 10-11 and again June 17-18 at the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St. Tickets are $12 at the door, and the shows start at 8 pm. Visit nightingaletheater.com for more information.
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