ADVENTURES IN BOSTON: THE GREAT BURLESQUE EXPO OF 2015

Originally Published in Burlesque Beat on March 15th, 2015

Hyatt Regency Hotel, Cambridge, MA

Six foot snowdrifts? Unyielding snowstorms? Brutal wind chills? Think that’s gonna stop the glitter tribe from attending The 9th Annual Great Burlesque Expo in Cambridge? Hell no. While attendance was lighter than last time I went in 2013, it was far from the sparse crowd I expected. The burlesque performers and fans were there to party and luckily, things got nice and steamy inside the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge for the opening night show, The Rhinestone Revue.

Our host, Lili VonSchtupp, introduced the show as “possibly the most exciting night of your life.” While that statement contains a wee bit of hyperbole, it was thrilling to finally see the show in full swing despite weather-induced setbacks. The crowd loved Lili, guffawing at her off-color humor and campy “vagic” bits (Vagina + Magic = #vagic. Get it?). I’ve seen Lili MC her regular Monday Night Tease shows in Hollywood and it was nice to see her exposing Boston audiences to her comedian-slash-magician-slash-Madame personae.

Scandal From Bohemia performing at the 2015 Great Burlesque Exposition day 1 show, The Rhinestone Revue

All the performers in The Rhinestone Revue were title holders of some sort, obvious by the caliber of talent presented. Festival organizers made a smart decision opening the festival with bonafide burlesque stars like neo-burlesque superstar Angie Pontani and Russ Meyer super-vixen and burlesque legend Kitten Natividad. That said, I did go into the show with high expectations and was surprised that it took a couple acts to really get things rolling.

Scandal From Bohemia is Seattle-based so I may be playing favorites, but she reminded me of what I love about our burlesque scene. Her act opened with her walking onstage wrapped in winter gear: woolen hat, big jacket, furry winter boots. But as Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” played, things quickly warmed up, with Scandal stripping down to her glittery red long johns complete with butt flap for easy ass-posure. Eventually she stripped down to nothing while being wrapped in a glitterized “fire blanket” by the stage kittens. Seattle burlesque leans towards the humorous/weird/goofy and Scandal represented that well.

Next up was New York’s Lucy Buttons, who did a classic routine to Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher.” The classic acts I’ve seen from the Big Apple are always top-notch. There’s a higher level of quality that you don’t find in other retro-inspired acts from around the country. She came out in a gorgeous sequined gown and stripped down to a short flapper-style dress. Lucy is absolutely stunning on stage, she uses her face to maximum effect and moves with seductive grace that entrances the audience.

Lucy was followed by JZ Bich, who did a routine to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” walking on-stage in full Venetian-style masquerade attire. I admired her avant-garde, gender-bending style and there were some bizarrely comedic moments but as a whole, I felt confused by what she was trying to convey. There was too much going for the routine to fully grab my attention. She’s obviously an original performer who thinks outside the box, but the act needed to be reigned in and focused, especially with a song as long as “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Taradise followed with a great beach-inspired routine to the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo.” She made good use of props including fans and a lit-up palm tree, and branded “Taradise” boogie board. I dug Taradise’s fun, playful style and she did a fantastic job egging on the audience for cheers. The Boston Babydolls followed with a brilliant group routine featuring three blind mice tormented by two sighted cats. As always with Boston Babydolls Burlesque, the choreography was spot on, classic but never predictable. They blew me away at my first Expo back in 2013 and again this year.

Angie Pontani closed out the first half and she did not disappoint. Insipired by “Italian style,” during the routine, Angie played a statue that comes to life. Everything about the act was incredible – the costumery, the customized soundtrack, the pause before the reveal and the sentimental finish, with Angie turning back into stone. It was a stunning, artful, sexy and moving routine that left a noticeable hush in the room before the well-deserved applause.

The second half of the show opened with legendary Russ Meyer ‘s super-vixen Kitten Natividad. What can you say about Kitten? Raunchy, and cute as a button, she is a living embodiment of the pre-AIDS, “free love” era when burlesque was transforming into modern-day stripping. She uses classic moves of the golden era but spices it up with a hefty dose of raunch, like imitating a blow job, complete with her pushing her own head down on some imaginary phallus and, of course, wiping her mouth afterwards. Beautifully nasty.

Kitten Natividad performing at the 2015 Great Burlesque Exposition day 1 show, The Rhinestone Revue

Bella Blue followed Kitten with an intense routine to El Tango de Roxane from Moulin Rouge. Bella obviously has a ballet background; her body control was unbelievable. I also enjoyed Scarlet Starlet’s majorette routine, with her transforming from bored majorette to sideshow-style baton twirler, shaking her thing to “Super Freak.”

Nina La Voix performing at the 2015 Great Burlesque Exposition day 1 show, The Rhinestone Revue

Another Seattleite, Whisper De Corvo, managed to do a stunning routine (while pregnant) with costumery to match. Whisper possesses an other-worldly seductiveness which she played up big-time. She seemed to have trouble getting her top off but played it off and gracefully recovered. Nina La Voix finished the night with a high energy, twerk-heavy routine with loads of rock and roll attitude.

I was unable to attend the Friday Night Bordello show as I ended up having drinks with my friend Mistress Kali, a fellow producer and friend from New Orleans, who was in town to accept the 1st Annual Brassy Award, which I helped develop and would present to her the following night; more about that in my next review. It was great to catch up with her, so much so that I completely lost track of time but judging from the Facebook and Twitter comments, I missed one hell of a show.

Stay tuned for part two of my Boston adventures.

All photos ©John Bilotti and used here with express permission. Please do not use photos without obtaining permission. Performers sharing photos of themselves, please credit the photographer and link back to the original source of this piece. Thank you.

John Bilotti is the director of photography for the Great Burlesque Exposition and the official photographer of Boston Babydolls Burlesque.

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