By Sparkly Devil Memorial Scholarship recipient, Precious Ephemera
Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender 2019
Orleans Hotel & Casino – Las Vegas, Nevada
Everyone has taken their seats in anticipation of the inter-generational mayhem that’s about to ensue. Each year the Legends of Burlesque shock and delight an audience whose very existence couldn’t have been foretold by their wildest dreams. I think to myself how amazing it must feel for all these stars to shine on the people they hadn’t even conceived of when they were living their truth, their art and their best life.
Annual Emcee, World Famous ☆BOB☆ welcomes the audience after a grand entrance in an ensemble inspired by the hypothetical lovechild of Divine and Malibu Barbie. The Blonde Lady recalls the early days of Jenny Lee and Dixie Evans, the reunions on the goat farm and how their passion for burlesque kept a tiny flame alive that would become the roaring fire that continues to warm the world’s stages today. “Welcome to the Temple” she says as she reminds us that The Burlesque Hall of Fame and each of us is here because the Legends were here before us. Without these Titans of Tease, none among us would have a tassel to twirl or a glove to peel and for that we are truly grateful.
In a perfect opening act we were introduced to the Grant Avenue Follies by a golden clad ensemble member telling the audience precisely how little we know about poetry. The curtain opens to the most charming cast of citizens whose seniority is predicated by charm and unity. These synchronized swimmers of the stage used timely chimes and boa flips to cast a spell, awakening the audience to pure magic. Newly in a state of fantasia, we were introduced to cabaret legend Holly Carrol, whose throaty vocals and gritty wit transported us to the smoky stages of the casinos and clubs of yore, she worked the stage and the crowd over until we were hooked and madly infatuated her with timeless star power.
The First Lady of Burlesque, April March is then escorted onto the stage by smolderingly suave producer Seven. She spoke of the Burlesque of the 1950’s with adoration and nostalgia noting that things “were a lot different then, then they are today”. With the unfailing conversation skills of a wisecracking debutante, April had the audience rolling as she introduced us to Jack Cione, Delilah Jones, Tina Pratt, Bambi Jones, Bic Caroll, Tempest Storm and, making her legendary debut on the BHoF stage, recently inducted Kaena
Ellion Ness filled the stage like a moonbeam in a black spiral beaded skirt. She has an enchanting presence and gave everyone a lesson in at least one devilish use for a coat rack. Penny Star Sr. lit up the moment she hit the stage in white and gold with a pitch perfect coif and her whip-like tenacity. In the brassiest display of comedic charm, Gail Winns melted all of our faces with her unrelenting wit, and reminded everyone in the room that what truly makes us laugh is heartfelt truth doused in playfulness. Lovey Goldmine gifted us with her love of musical theater in a head to toe Cabaret medley. Flanked by talented dancers reminiscent of Britney and Christina in Madonna’s iconic VMA performance, Lovey weaved us into the tapestry of the ever-relevant music and message we all know and love. Each of these leading ladies reminded us of the purity of heart that got us playing dress-up and singing into our hairbrushes as children and how this natural part of ourselves can lead to a goldmine of love for a lifetime.
Brandy Wilde gently takes the stage at a podium to address the crowd and paint a landscape of burlesque in the 1960’s – a politically turbulent time. She reminds us that homosexuality was illegal and gracefully alluded to the pain of life in the closet. In a celebratory segue she tells us how she always found acceptance and respect from her peers in the world of burlesque. Many of us needed the reminder that Burlesque continues to be a refuge of pride for those of us facing social adversity in our lives offstage. Fittingly, Brandy first introduces Toni Elling followed by Adina, Melissa St. John, Rubberlegs, Lola Foxx and stage trickster Georgette Dante.
Then it’s time for Las Vegas’ only Nude Magician to offer us something to cool our jets and blow our minds. With an enterprising determination to extract all the remaining “oohs and ahhhs” from her audience, Dusty Summers reveals everything but her illusionist secrets in her mystifying performance in icy blue accompanied by white doves, dazzling smirks, and charismatic precision. Before the first act comes to a close, Bambi the Mermaid takes the stage to present the Legend of the Year Award. Holding back tears as she describes her friend, the indefatigable warrior of individuality and the Godmother of Neo-Burlesque. Camille 2000 is escorted onto the stage to tell us of her recent diagnosis with stage IV cancer and how knowing that she would have the opportunity to receive this award in her lifetime, in addition to the support from our international community has kept her alive. Overwhelmed with emotion saying “Thank you for Loving Me” her right eyelash was transposed and affixed to her cheek like warpaint and the crowd rose to their feet in support of the Cosmic Queen.
The second act opened with the In Memoriam presentation of community members, too many gone too soon, and the audience laid their hands over their collective hearts as the screen delivered its honors. The room smiled in remembrance, sighed with longing and wept in deep respect for those who have impacted the heart and soul of Burlesque with their voices and their efforts. The tone was immediately juxtaposed by the only one who could transform the mood to sheer delight. With her signature sass and flawless irreverence Big Fannie Annie takes the stage and introduces us to the band of legends who represent the 1970’s. Viva LaFever, Eartha Quake, Shawna the Black Venus, Velvet Ice, Snowi Sinclair, and Gina BonBon took to the stage and soaked in our adoration with poise and swagger.
Songbird Monique Murray treated us to a performance of the 1953 sultry hit “Teach Me Tonight” one of America’s great Jazz Standards with some pretty scandalous implications the lyrics. Gabriella Maze turned the tone on a dime with an ecstatic performance beginning with flames and isis wings and finishing with head to toe hairography and ferocious femininity. World Famous ☆BOB☆ shared a letter from Miss Topsy who was unable to attend the festivities in person letting us know that despite time and distance the flame of the reunion is alive in her heart and that she hopes to grace us next year.
Marinka, Queen of the Amazons takes the stage and with just a subtle twitch of movement she commands our attention. She knows exactly what she’s about to bestow upon her audience and she takes her time building the anticipation, her fingers tell a story and guide our eyes to the exact place where we have permission to look before she grips us with both hands, takes us with her whole body over to the velvet curtain for the moment of no return, her signature move that has the whole room on their feet for thunderous applause and jubilation. Judith Stein asserts herself like a whiskey neat on a maplewood bartop. She’s mesmerizing and smooth and she stings going down. With her matter of fact movements and brassy attitude, she could entertain us in denim and flannel if she wanted but she relishes a glove peel, kills in a pale blue gown, and isn’t afraid to use her teeth. Shannon Doah, demure and sweet, sees herself onto the stage in an ivory fur overcoat and aubergine organza headpiece, she shows us the value of a woman enjoying herself with softness and personal satisfaction. Coby Yee, accompanied by her lifetime companion Steven King give us a royal retelling of a courtship lasting an era. Coby leads and Mr. King graciously attends tender and connected moments giving this performance an authenticity that communicates a timeless true love most of us only dream about. Through this dreamworld we bear witness to a respectful and admirable intimacy that demonstrates how consent never compromises passion.
The show could’ve ended there, with a fairytale happy ending, but before we closed the curtain on this showcase, one final performance would carry us into a new reality and a deeper understanding of our place in the tectonic shifts of the greater burlesque movement. I have dedicated an entire article with a significant amount of detail to the prophetic and historical performance that permanently emblazoned Camille 2000’s place as the Girl for Yesterday Today and Tomorrow in the history of burlesque forever. First, let it be known that at the time of her performance Camille has outlived her life expectancy by nearly 7 months and with courage, came to the stage and delivered a message of self acceptance and vulnerability. Once again, the Godmother of Neo-Burlesque proved to our community that nothing holds us back from living our truth. Using religious iconography, she reclaimed her conservative christian upbringing and contorted a spiritual message worthy of the future of womanhood free from stigma and shame. With her Burlesque daughters Whitney Ward and Bambi the Mermaid at her side like angels, she sobbed through unmitigated physical pain to humbly take her place on the stage for us. We will never forget the way the room felt when Camille 2000 took her bow as Legend of the Year.
It was a night of celebration and remembrance and an unexpected reminder of the meaning we can hold in the incredible artform of Burlesque. The legends teach us so much about what we transmit as entertainers and to be in their esteemed audience is an invaluable gift. Everyone left the showroom changed for the better.