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.”