Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Ann Corio in one of her epics for PRC in the mid-forties. I haven't been able to figure out which one.
Perhaps the best known stripper who ever lived was Gypsy Rose Lee whose life was the basis of the hit musical "Gypsy." An attempt to break into films in the 1930s failed, but she did manage to appear in a number of movies as either the female lead or as a character actress.
Lee's book, "The G-String Murders," which was a highly popular murder mystery, was adapted into the film "Lady of Burlesque." The actor with the odd hat was Pinkly Lee, a burlesque comic who was a popular kids TV show host in the 1950s,
When I was a kid, I remember seeing ads for Ann Corio's "This was Burlesque" show as Corio and her husband owned the Storrowton Music Tent in West Springfield and would occasionally revive the show as part of their summer theater series.
(Do well-known performers tour with summer shows any more? Or is this just another dead form of entertainment? I saw Theodore Bikel in "Fiddler on the Roof," Milton Berle in "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers" – in which he was heckled – Ruby Keeler in "No No Nanette" and Kreskin in well, a Kreskin performance.)
I had little idea what burlesque was except I grew to understand it meant women taking off their clothes to music. It sounded intriguing.
Of course burlesque was much more. During its glory years from the mid-Twenties to the mid-1950s, burlesque shows meant music, variety acts, comedians and strippers. It should be noted the best exotic dancers were known for their acts as well as their figures.
Corio was among the elite of the "peelers," women who commanded a lot of money and did non-burlesque work such as appearing in legit movies – not to be confused with expliotation road shows.
Strip clubs today – even in larger cities – seem to have little inclination to recreate burlesque and it's interesting that a new burlesque has grown out of punk and goth lifestyles as well as an affection for retro entertainment. Google the word "burlesque" and you'll see what I mean.
I was interested when I heard that local dancers were re-creating a burlesque show and I wrote the following:
SPRINGFIELD – In 1962, former burlesque queen Ann Corio brought back the era of the showgirl and the baggy-pants comic in her show “This Was Burlesque.” Rose Bailey is hoping to do the same in 2008.
Bailey is staging a traditional burlesque show on Aug 2. at 8 p.m. in the Bourbon Street section of the Mardi Gras Gentleman’s Club on Taylor Street.
Like Corio’s show – which ran on Broadway and toured for 20 years which included stops in Springfield – Bailey’s production will feature dancers in elaborate costumes, a live band, and comedy. Worcester-based comedian Frank Foley and swing dancer instructor Christopher LaMontagne will also perform.
Bailey said the show will be “very couple friendly” and should appeal to people who have enjoyed shows such as “Cabaret” and “Chicago.”
The two-hour show is “packed with Vegas and Broadway style entertainment,” she said.
With a smile she added, “a lot of flash and a little bit of trash.”
Bailey, who comes from a show-business family and has been dancing professionally since age 16, explained she has been preparing the show for the last four months. The show includes numbers that are salutes to burlesque queens of the past such as Gypsy Rose Lee.
Traditional burlesque, which thrived in various forms from the 1920s to the 1950s, was the training ground for a number of well known-comedians from Abbot and Costello to Phil Silvers. Strippers such as Corio, Lee and Lily St. Cyr all had crossover careers in other areas of show business.
In the past decade there has been an increase in interest in the traditional form with burlesque troupes as the Velvet Hammer in Los Angeles and Le Scandal in New York City.
Bailey said she was motivated to stage the production to show younger dancers what classic burlesque was all about.
Following the Aug. 2 performance Bailey will bring her Bourbon Street Burlesque Troupe to the World Burlesque Convention at the Mandalay Bay casino in Las Vegas from Aug. 25-28. The troupe will perform there and Bailey hopes to secure bookings for the show and tour the country.
Tickets are $25 for the show and $50 for VIP seats that include a meal catered by the 350 Grill, Bailey said. On sale now at the Mardi Gras, Bailey said tickets, if available, would be at the door the night of the show.
© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs