With “Cupid’s Cabaret,” Trixie Minx goes beyond burlesque for Valentine’s Day

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If quantity was the watchword for burlesque in 2015, maybe the watchword for 2016 is quality. Because of the massive influx of performers moving to New Orleans over the past couple years, and the increased number of shows, there’s a sense that the scene might have become a bit saturated.

There might be only one way to go, then: up. That’s up, as in quality; up, as in production value; up, as in a sense of scale; and up, as in a platform to showcase the talent here.

That’s why it’s so fun watching Trixie Minx discuss her latest venture, “Cupid’s Cabaret,” a grand affair set for Sunday (Feb. 14) — Valentine’s Day — on the grandest stage since the burlesque renaissance, the Orpheum Theater. Minx is alternately excited and a bit wary as she explains her vision for the show over coffee inside the Roosevelt Hotel, opposite the Orpheum’s general manager, Kristin Shannon. Burlesque is too small a word to describe what’s on tap, she cautions.

“We want this event to be more than a show but an experience of what it was like to be in the Orpheum back then,” Minx said in a recent post with vintage Orpheum photos that reminded readers of the venue’s vaudeville roots. “An interactive vaudeville presentation on a Vegas-size level … with a modern take.”

That’s Minx, always harkening to the more classic style of burlesque but always with an eye toward the present — most often seen in her monthly Fleur de Tease shows at One Eyed Jacks. (Not to confuse anyone, but this month’s show, held the night before on Saturday, naturally will have a Valentine’s theme.) So call it what you will: burlesque, vaudeville, cabaret or variety show, but “Cupid’s Cabaret” represents a major step up and forward for the producers and performers in the scene in 2016.

The cast alone is worth the price of admission: Trixie Minx, Roxie le Rouge and Madame Mystere — all regulars in the “Fleur de Tease” show — but also Portland’s Angelique de Vil performing a number. But then comes tons of variety, including music from New Orleans’ own singer-songwriter Sasha Masakowski (flown in from New York City), swing dancer Bobby Bonsey, contortionist Sam Aquatic, and the New York-based aerial duo, Brian Ferree & Crista Marie Westley. New Orleans drag/cabaret performer Vinsantos also is on tap.

It will all be set in a dinner-theater atmosphere, which will allow the Orpheum to take advantage of its ability to raise its stage to accommodate dining lovers in the front, with sparkling wine flowing from bottles the moment guests arrive at the door. While this area is certainly for the lovers in the house, the upstairs balcony (at cheaper prices) will provide a fun atmosphere for single men and women, without necessarily the pressure of trying to impress a date but instead take in the entertainment.

“For the guests to experience it, we want the Orpheum and the stage of the Orpheum to allow and provide access to folks who wouldn’t ordinarily buy tickets to a show like this, like maybe even “Fleur de Tease,” said Shannon. “When you come inside a place like the Orpheum, you get to see a show that’s an elevated type of vaudeville or burlesque.”

For Trixie Minx, “Cupid’s Cabaret” represents a logical progression in a career that has taken her outside of New Orleans for bigger ventures, bigger stages and bigger audiences. Her guest performers represent a list of friends she’s made elsewhere, whether it’s from her regular trips to Atlantic City (most notably for this past December’s “The Burlesque Show” at the Borgata Casino Hotel & Spa); the Ink-N-Iron Festival in Long Beach, Calif.; or the “Fantasy” show she produces for Couples Cruise.

Each of these shows, she says, have inspired her to try to take her work to another level, which includes a larger budget, more performers and a larger stage.

“I started ‘Fleur de Tease’ 10 years ago because from the first moment I was introduced to burlesque, I liked it but I wanted more,” she said. “That’s why ‘Fleur de Tease’ is New Orleans’ premier vaudeville revue. It’s more than burlesque. Burlesque is a beautiful art form, but I wanted a show. I wanted something big.

“My inspiration was the Moulin Rouge, the Crazy Horse and the Lido in Paris,” she continued. “I saw all of them 2005. Those shows are what inspired me. ‘Fleur de Tease’ workw with a humble budget, and a great cast. This is a chance to work my creative muscles.

“I have so many ideas!”

She’s executing only the ideas that work for her creatively, and not just to be a crowd-pleaser or dumb down the production value, she said.

“I’ve been pushed a lot times to do things that might cheapen a performance because it’ll draw more people,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘You should go a little raunchier, and what’s hot in the moment.’ I always keep to a performance that’s classic, that’s got comedy, that’s got that vaudeville spirit. I love that we can expand on that.

“My shows, I never want to bring down the quality to bring in more people.”

“Cupid’s Cabaret” is another indicator of burlesque shows going bigger and possibly expanding its audience. Last year saw more attempts to do this, including Bella Blue’s weekly “Risq” show at Harrah’s New Orleans Casino. (That show currently is on hiatus but might return soon.) After recently presenting her “Touché” show at the Joy Theater, she announced the formation of the Foxglove Revue, a troupe that will include such in-demand performers as Darling Darla James, Charlotte Treuse, Queenie O’Hart, Stevie Poundcake, Madonnathan, Angie Z, Cherry Bombshell, Miss Monarch M, Cherry Brown and The Lady Lucerne.

Elsewhere, Blu Reine announced this past December that she will expand her quarterly production, “The Roux: A Spicy Brown Burlesque Show,” into a full-blown festival Sept. 16-18 — which will showcase some of the nation’s most in-demand performers of color.

It’s productions like these that offer everyone a chance to up their game, including longtime “Fleur de Tease” collaborator and Big Deal Burlesque producer Roxie le Rouge.

“I think anytime a performer has the opportunity to perform their art form in a beautiful theater such as the Orpheum, it feels like an accomplishment,” she said. “I always feel a sense of relief when I can do an act as intended without limitations that come along with performing at smaller venues. I mean I love performing at hole-in-the wall dive bars, metal clubs, etc. But, it is a pretty great feeling to be on a big stage. In my head I’m saying, ‘Look at all this room I have to dance!'”

For Trixie Minx, expanding the form, and the audience, creates so many new opportunities in a city too often associated with the past. The Orpheum Theater, as I noted in a Biz New Orleans profile, is symbolic of a return of several historic New Orleans theaters, but it wants to celebrate both the past and the future for these types of productions.

“I honestly think that burlesque is an evolutionary art form,” Minx said. “To me, the art of striptease is not new. It’s continuously evolving. Each year it has upped. I feel people might be a little more excited about it right now, like as a buzzword. What I really like about this year and specifically working with the Orpheum, whatever you love, you’re going to see a show because you love it.

“Hope this will open the minds of someone who might not see a vaudeville show. It might open eyes and perspective to a whole new world, which is incredible.”

Throwback Thursday: Trixie Minx’s “Cupid’s Cabaret” conjures images of the Orpheum Theater’s vaudeville origins

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According to historical reports, when the Orpheum Theater opened for New Orleans fans on Feb. 7, 1921, the focus was on vaudeville.

“Jewel and fur clad women and dapper gentlemen filled the Orpheum Theater, New Orleans’ newest and most fashionable theater where ‘good taste reigned everywhere,’” one report said. “This auspicious evening’s main attraction was The Singer Midgets, who were to enter Hollywood immortality nine years later as the Munchkins of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’

“A bit of incongruous perhaps with the ‘dressed-to-the-nines’ crowd, but this was the heyday of vaudeville and the Singer Midgets was a class act – and so was the Orpheum.”

Just under 85 years later, this is music to the ears of producer Trixie Minx and the Orpheum’s Kristin Shannon, who, over coffee inside the nearby Roosevelt Hotel, are giddy with excitement over the historic theater playing elegant host to “Cupid’s Cabaret,” a mix of variety acts that celebrates Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. While Minx has made her mark as a burlesque performer and producer — she literally performed on both the East Coast and West Coast when not in New Orleans over the course of 2015 — she is emphatic about extolling her vaudeville influences.

And while she is quick to note the vaudeville influences in her monthly, decade-old “Fleur de Tease” show at One Eyed Jacks, she wants people to think of “Cupid’s Cabaret” as a nod to those more purely vaudeville instincts.

“We want this event to be more than a show but an experience of what it was like to be in the Orpheum back then,” Minx said. “An interactive vaudeville presentation on a Vegas-size level … with a modern take.”

I’ll have more on that take soon, but first I thought it would be fun to present a little “Throwback Thursday” of historic photos, courtesy of the Orpheum staff, to remember a time when it was the likes of the Singer Sisters and Al Jolson who ruled the stage and not the silver screen that came to dominate as the theater entered the middle of the 20th century.

More on the overall show; for now, enjoy this little trip down memory lane. For tickets and more information, click here.

Read more about the return of the Orpheum and other historic New Orleans theaters in my Biz New Orleans piece.

Trixie Minx’s “Cupid’s Cabaret” show set for Valentine’s Day at the Orpheum

1-Trixie Minx Cupid

Trixie Minx. (Photo by Jason Kruppa)

New Orleans burlesque star Trixie Minx loves to add a dash of Valentine’s Day to her February Fleur de Tease shows whenever possible. Now she’s taking that idea to another level and another venue in partnering with the Orpheum Theater for “Cupid’s Cabaret,” on Feb. 14 — “classic vaudeville show with a contemporary heartbeat,” as Thursday’s release stated.

“It’s going to be a whole weekend of burlesque (for Valentine’s Day),” Minx said, referring to the monthly Fleur de Tease show (Feb. 13) as well as her weekly shows Burlesque Ballroom at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse and Burgundy Burlesque at the Burgundy Bar.

“Burgundy Ballroom and Burlesque Ballroom have a lot of classic striptease, with the singers doing songs about love and stuff like that. And with Fleur de Tease, love is the theme. But this (‘Cupid’s Cabaret’) is more of a vaudeville show. It will be a dinner-theater show with lots of singers. I don’t want to give away too much because I want (the audience to be) open to experience it for themselves.

“I want them to walk in the theater and be surprised.”

The as-yet-unannounced lineup will feature burlesque dancers, aerialists, comedians and local singers. Dinner seating will be sold in pairs and tables will be provided for couples and foursomes. Cocktail packages also will be available, though there will be a limited number of dinner seats available. On top of that, single tickets will be sold in the balcony and loge areas.

Tickets go on sale Friday (Jan. 15) at 10 a.m. Dinner (which will include the seated dinner and champagne) are $225 for two, and $200 a pair for a table of four. Single tickets are $30 for balcony seats, $50 loge. Bar packages also are available. Tickets are available at tickets.orpheumnola.com or by calling the box office at 504-274-4870. For more information, visit www.orpheumnola.com.

Trixie Minx was voted as one of the top 10 favorite burlesque performers in New Orleans in my recent 2015 readers poll. Fleur de Tease was among the top five burlesque/circus shows for 2015 in the monthly/seasonal category. She recently performed in “The Burlesque Show” in Atlantic City.

For Allen Toussaint, and his fans, the music was personal

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Every now and then, the New Orleans music community suffers a loss that goes even deeper than usual. When Allen Toussaint died at age 77 after a show in Spain, the loss reverberated around New Orleans and, really the rest of the world. It was so profound that, one could make the case it was the greatest loss since the passing of Louis Armstrong nearly 45 years ago. To name-check another great, it felt like we had lost our Cole Porter, for in Toussaint we lost a man who could make gritty New Orleans rhythm and blues, and its feisty child, funk, sound elegant and accessible to everyone.

That was Toussaint in real life: elegant, and accessible to everyone.

Which is why you didn’t even have to for wait entry into the Orpheum Theater on Friday (Nov. 20) for a sweet memory about Toussaint, even if there would be many shared in the tribute played out on the stage with a star-studded lineup and in front of a grieving family in the first few rows and grieving fans packed to the third-floor balcony. As we waited in line to get in — the doors opened at 8 a.m., but fans were queuing up well before 7:30 a.m. — fans stood in silence. Until they couldn’t. Right beside me, seemingly unprovoked, Maureen Morrow, a woman looking to be in her late 40s or early 50s spoke about how she’d seen Toussaint at the 1982 New Orleans Jazz Fest and, benefiting from one of his post-show customs of tossing out personal items, got to snag his songbook.

To her right, Annie Lousteau, graying and probably in her 60s, lit up, and reminisced about how, as an aspiring musician in her youth, sitting on Toussaint’s piano stool in his studio and strumming her guitar. He’d encouraged her to become a musician, she remembered, and she later pursued work in children’s musical theater.

Later, after Hurricane Katrina, Lousteau found herself stuck in her FEMA trailer, and music was her salvation as she tuned into WWOZ. “I was so depressed,” she remembered, before perking up and adding that the song “Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky” had “become my anthem.”

On the other side of Morrow, Mary Phelps, the only African American of the three, and perhaps in her early 70s, remembered waiting on Toussaint when she worked at the Bon Ton Café — “He always ordered the fried shrimp,” she insisted. Going way further back, she remembered watching Toussaint perform back in the early 1960s along with Irma Thomas, Margie Joseph and others at the Joy Tavern in Gert Town, Toussaint’s neighborhood. It was part of a weekly “college night.” “He was a great musician,” she said. “He played good music. Clean music. I don’t know what they call that stuff today.”

These personal moments echoed what New Orleanians had been saying throughout the past week, remembering musical and run-in moments with Toussaint, who was difficult to miss while moving about the community in his signature Rolls-Royces (he had two) and his natty, colorful attire. He seemed to love posing for fans — including me and my son, Eli, when we caught him passing by the City Park playground on his way over to Morning Call during Jazz Fest.

That was Toussaint: elegant and accessible — and generous. So his death was as personal to us as his music was to him. Those speaking and performing at the tribute bore that out. While this was clearly a delicate balance of a tribute and a funeral service — the actual burial was for Saturday — the mixing and matching of secular words and biblical references, of pop songs and gospel, wove its own spiritual quilt for the audience. Cyril Neville, accompanied by Davell Crawford, performed “Let’s Live,” with is line: “Why deprive yourself, of the wonders of life / Time is getting shorter, there’s no reason for those lonely nights / If you don’t, if you don’t love me, you’ll miss the boat.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu reflected on Toussaint’s work with the New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness, and evoked the social call of “Yes We Can Can” with its line, “Make this land a better land / In the world in which we live / And help each man be a better man /With the kindness that you give.” Deacon John Moore followed with a subtle, stirring version of “Any Day Now.”

There were other magical musical moments: Davell Crawford’s sweet, wistful “Southern Nights,” Irma Thomas’ “Walk Around Heaven All Day,” Boz Scaggs’ “What Do You Want the Girl to Do?” (backed by Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen), and so on. My personal favorite performance was arguably the least soulful moment, when Jimmy Buffett strode out in respectful but hipster black and performed a kind of deconstructive version of “Fortune Teller.” Buffett, never the world’s greatest vocalist, brought out all the mischief and cleverness of the lyrics, and accented certain moments of the ending (really, a punchline to a joke) — Now I’m a happy fellow / Well I’m married to the fortune teller / We’re happy as we can be / And I get my fortune told for free.” It was the accent on that last note, and a knowing grin by Buffett, that drew guffaws from the audience. “Ohhh, he had a sense of humor!” Buffett said, getting more chuckles.

But clearly this was day of deep, spiritual musical moments, including John Boutté’s gospel take on “All These Things,” and longtime reedman/sideman Brian “Breeze” Cayolle’s “Ave Maria, and Dr. John’s “Life” — but not without Mac’s typically offbeat comment by way of introduction that “this is off the hook and appropriated.”

While he promised there wouldn’t be a sermon, Michael Green, the pastor of the LifeGate Church, may have had the most apt description of Toussaint as an artist when he said, “Allen didn’t have a song; he was the song.”

It says something that a pastor trying not to sound too religious for a possibly more secular audience could have such a profound musical take on Toussaint, but that indicates the way his music reached into our hearts. You could hear it in remembrances from Joshua Feigenbaum (with whom Toussaint started the now-defunct NYNO Records label) and of course from Elvis Costello, who collaborated with Toussaint on the Grammy-nominated, post-Katrina album, 2006’s “The River in Reverse.”

Perhaps too choked up to perform himself, Costello nevertheless touched the audience with his reflections of a friendship cemented during Toussaint’s post-Katrina exile in New York City. Costello quoted “Freedom for the Stallion” with its memorable line, “They’ve got men building fences to keep other men out / Ignore him if he whispers and kill him if he shouts.”

“If Allen had anger about what happened 10 years ago,” Costello pointed out, “it was measured, always balanced with his belief that it would all come back. That music would restore the spirit of the place that he loved — from within, or without.”

The day ended in typical New Orleans music and funeral splendor, with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s version of “Yes We Can Can” (with Boutté on vocals) followed by the more somber “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and then “I’ll Fly Away” in what amounted to an all-star jam of all who came before with Trombone Shorty thrown in for good measure. Pall-bearers carried the coffin, fashioned by Rhodes, out to waiting hearse with hundreds watching along the sidewalk and on the street.

How many of them out on the street had their own Allen Toussaint moment — on the stages at Jazz Fest, in the dusty music halls of the ’60s, in the New York clubs, or maybe even over at City Park catching a selfie?

Hopefully, those moments will help us get through the pain of losing one of the towering giants of New Orleans music. We can always go by his words, which rhetorically asked, “Why deprive yourself, of the wonders of life?”

Allen Toussaint tribute: A photo gallery

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UPDATE: For Allen Toussaint, and his fans, the music was personal (a reflection)

I’ll have more on the tribute to Allen Toussaint on Friday (Nov. 20) at the Orpheum Theater. It was an overwhelming experience fill with memories, music and emotion. Until then, here’s a photo gallery (with a few duplicates/extras), which I’ll tidy up with the post.