News Column

Burlesque and vaudeville show at the Jefferson pays homage to sly humor of the past

August 23, 2013


Aug. 23--Burlesque was a popular form of entertainment in the first half of the 20th century. In the early years of the 21st, it's, well, taking off again.

Nuit de Fantaisie Classic Burlesque and Vaudeville Showcase, which stops at the Jefferson Theater tonight, is bringing an old-school evening of winking nostalgia forthe variety shows where grownups of yesteryear found their baggy-pants comedy served flirtatiously warm.

Sure, it has been a while since the Jefferson welcomed a burlesque and vaudeville extravaganza to its stage, but in the venue's early years, some of the top names on the vaudeville circuit performed there. And it's a great chance to peel off some naughty old stereotypes about burlesque. To the presenter of tonight's event, proper burlesque dances around naughtiness and leaves a lot to the imagination.

"It's not raunchy, but it's still adult and cheeky," said Deanna Danger, a Richmond-based performance artist and burlesque performer who runs Boom Boom Basics Burlesque and Performing Arts Studio in Richmond. "You come to a burlesque show for a little bit of art and culture with your cheekiness.

"It's got that element of tease, so we don't give it away. You would see more [skin] in a rock video on TV than you would in burlesque. It's about being a lady."

Danger is the driving force behind the popular Byrlesque at the Byrd event at Richmond's Byrd Theatre. She said that tonight's burlesque offerings at the Jefferson will include a little bit of bellydancing, some ukulele and accordion music and a bit of dancing with hula hoops.

And to remind everyone that the beloved vaudeville shows of the early 20th century had their roots in burlesque, the show will include the style of baggy-pants comedy that made vaudeville audiences howl.

After all, humor's always part of the equation of authentic burlesque. The word "burlesque" comes from "burlesco," an Italian word that refers to a more satirical, farcical vein of joking, and the theater form of burlesque drew on a lively lineage of European and British performance traditions. It relied on caricatures and other broad comic strokes to help people see the humor in more serious forms of entertainment, offering pithy sendups of operas, theatrical dramas and classic literature. And it wasn't unusual for the comedy to get bawdy enough to stoke as many blushes as the dance routines did.

Some household names from 20th-century films and television got their start on burlesque stages --W.C. Fields, Mae West, Phil Silvers, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, Sid Caesar and Abbott and Costello, to name but a few.

Tonight, Buster Britches will be supplying the vaudeville-style comedy.

"He is absolutely adorable," Danger said. "He will melt your heart and make you laugh."

Magnolia Jackson Pickett Burnside, who's hosting the show, is the evening's sole drag performer, Danger said.

"She's fabulous --quite large and in charge," Danger said.

"She's very, very hilarious. We all call her 'the Southern-fried socialite.' "

Nuit de Fantaisie: A Classic Burlesque and Vaudeville Showcase

9 tonight

Jefferson Theater

$13; $10 advance; four-person tables available at $15 per person



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