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Burlesque reunion is a performance for the ages

8 June 2009

By John Katsilometes, Las Vegas Sun
LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A sex-ified sextet of ladies in flapper-type, canary-yellow dresses and white go-go boots are spinning and stepping across The Orleans Showroom stage. Joining them, in what would be the first of many show-stopping moments over the next three or so hours, is a genuine legend in this forum: burlesque queen Viva La Fever. She gimme a fever, for sure. Viva coyly sneaks into the production, or pretends to, from the back of the stage. The audience goes wild. The dancers are the Devil-Ettes, which is why they also don yellow devil horns. Satan has never looked so frilly, or so silly.

Oh, yes: Viva La Fever is old enough to be your grandmother, or mother, or wife if you are in your mid-70s. That should be noted as she shakes her top and slaps those boots.

The chosen tune is the Elvis version of "Viva Las Vegas," and never were the words more appropriate than during the Burlesque Hall of Fame Reunion Showcase: "Bright lights city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire." The boots give a dull "thud" across the stage. Viva shimmies her shoulders and wheels around so her back is to the audience and, you know, jiggles that tush a little. Give 'em what they came for.

Afterward, the World Famous *BOB* (that is how she handles her first name, with the asterisks), donning a packed-tight sequined gown and unreal blond wig, says, "Don't you just love fringe? It's cheaper than dance lessons. You can cough in fringe and look sexy." The crowd, most of whom are dressed as elaborately as those onstage, clad lavish gowns and wigs and 4-inch eyelashes -- that goes for the women, too -- knowingly shouts back "Yeaaaah!"

Observing twilight-years dancers who, let's be honest, conjure a new fear of fallout, should not be so very entertaining. But it is. It's a Friday night in Vegas, and women decades younger filled of phony parts are performing stripteases at fancy clubs all over the city. But no one thrills in the act like those who made celebrating the human form famous, and the epicenter of the archaic art form is in Vegas as the Burlesque Hall of Fame relocated here a couple of years ago. Maybe it is true, today, as Famous *BOB* said, that "the difference between striptease and burlesque is strippers make money." The term "burlesque" is itself showing stretch marks, remade to mean any sort of tawdry entertainment, but what should be salvaged is that it is funny. It is a wildly fun and fun-loving experience. How can you not laugh, in a perplexed sort of way, as Burlesque Hall of Fame trailblazer Dixie Evans described the original Exotic World Burlesque Museum, famously built into Jennie and Charlie Lee's goat shed on a patch of desert between Vegas and L.A.:

"We hired a few Mexicans, who built a little stage. The Mexicans were great! They worked for two meals and a six pack a day! That was the going rate for Mexicans!" Not exactly a union project, no, and apologies to anyone of that culture and heritage in the audience.

There was so much to appreciate. Candy Caramello, a giant in the industry by any definition, ambled out in a spectacular silky white bustier and matching fur cape. Goosing the applause, she said. "Don't be afraid to give me the clap. I've had everything else." And, of her furry accessory, "Don't worry, animal lovers, it's fake. I had to fake it five times to get it!" And, I'll just offer this punch line to a really ribald offering, "Really? You've been eating the mattress for the past 10 minutes!" April March, Betty Rowland, Catherine D'Lish, Daisy Delight, Dee Milo, Dirty Martini, Doc and Stumpy, Dusty Summers, Gina Bon Bon, Holiday O'Hara, Immodesty Blaize, Wild Cherry, Linda Doll, La Savona, Sheila Rae, Tiffany Carty, Tony Midnight and Michelle L'Amour were among those invited to take part. L'Amour's performance was particularly remarkable: After her strip-down, which climaxed with her pinned to a heart-shaped mattress facing the audience as hands appeared from the affect to rub her shapely form with oil, she dried off to get married to a person announced as "Frankie." Michelle had a tough time making it through the vows, which included, "Marriage is not fun. If you want fun, buy a (bleeping) pony!"

Announced to the audience was Tempest Storm, and during the first (there were two) intermission, I introduced myself. I remembered seeing her perform in Lake Tahoe, at Harrah's, many years ago. I was sitting near the stage, and she snapped her boa in front of my face, the feathers just inches from my nose. She was a veritable rock star last night, forced to fend off dozens of fans, but I did ask her how she liked "Peepshow," the next-generation adult-humor show, at Planet Hollywood. "I loved it," she said. "What production value they have!" Sure, but sometimes all you need is your great gown, your catty wit, your shapely form … and maybe a boa.

Copyright © Las Vegas Sun. Inc. Republished with permission.


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