As I walked down the few steps to the Under St. Marks Theater in the East Village on a frigid December evening, I thought about the women who would be appearing in the burlesque revue that I was about to see. Would the theater be adequately heated, or would they suffer from the cold? And when the press agent promised "Burlesque without limits...", what exactly did she mean? I had high expectations about Doc Wasabassco's burlesque revue - his name is plastered all over New York's Burlesque revival and he presents regularly at various venues in Brooklyn and Manhattan. I also felt some trepidation as this was my first burlesque show. I was both curious and hopeful about burlesque, and as the lights dimmed, a question formed in my mind: is burlesque an art form whose revival will usher in another great era of American Vaudeville, or is it simply entertainment (and entertainment of a not very high order at that...stripping by any other name...) My conclusion is this. Burlesque, as presented in Revealed, is sexy, clever, tongue-in-cheek (figuratively speaking), and yes, a bit sleazy. It is stripping, but it is stripping as it should be, and even at Revealed, where yes, the burlesque performers achieve full nudity, it is a far cry from the "dancing" performed at "gentleman's clubs" across the city and beyond.
The show I saw opened with Master of Ceremonies Bastard Keith ribbing the audience and singing "Have Yourself a Merry F*ing Christmas." His impromptu digs were clever, his voice was great, and his suit was crisp - just what one would hope for the MC of an evening of vaudevillian pleasures. After Keith's warm-up, Doc Wasabassco himself, named after the hot sauce that sponsors his shows, came out and said a few words, and then the first "girl" was introduced. A succession of extremely short dances followed, in which women managed to keep moving while taking off their garments. I kept an eye out for the classic bump and grind, shimmy and shake, and of course the long, slow glove pull that I had seen in old movies. I didn't see many of these classic moves, but I did see a lot of sequins, t, and a. After four brief performances, about fifteen minutes into the show, it was time for intermission.
The second half of the evening was made up of more experienced performers, and the quality of the numbers (must be said with an old-fashioned Brooklyn accent "num-bas") improved. Bastard Keith also came out and did one of my favorite segments of the show, a spirited reading of an email exchange between himself and Doc Wasabassco, a regular bit included each month. At last, GiGi La Femme, one of the co-producers of the evening and a real burlesque pro, came onto the stage. She was adorned in a gorgeous tiered skirt and military jacket, a la turn of the century New Orleans. Each costume piece was stripped in unexpected ways and she wore layers upon layers of clothing, each smaller than the last. Meanwhile, she bumped, grind-ed, shimmied, shook and de-gloved on a professional level far above the other performers. Finally, I was able to see the art in the entertainment. And then I saw...even more.
Though it had its moments, unfortunately the conceit of Revealed, that more [skin] is on display than at other burlesque revues, weakens the show. Certainly, a burlesque-seeking audience hopes to be titillated, teased and amused, but do they hope to see organs and orifices? I don't think so. If they did, they would go to the Gold Club. In order for burlesque to maintain its integrity as an artful form of classic vaudevillian entertainment - I think it should stop before going all the way.
As a burlesque primer, Revealed might be a little too advanced, but if you like some sleaze with your tease, Revealed just may be the burlesque revue for you.
Revealed is performed the third Wednesday of every month at Under St. Marks Theater, 94 St. Marks Place, between 1st Ave and A. Doors at 9:30, show starts at 10pm. Tickets are $20.00. For more information visit horsetrade.info or wasabassco.com.