Burlesque — it may not be something you’re familiar with, or have even heard much about outside of Christina Aguilera and Cher’s early 2000’s musical movie. Whether you’re an expert on the art form or a total beginner (like I was, before sitting down with headliner and burlesque dancer Angie Pontani), The Birchmere Music Hall’s Valentine’s Day tradition is the perfect treat.
“Historically, burlesque started out in the 1600s and 1700s in Europe as spoken word comedy,” Pontani tells me in a charming Jersey drawl. “It was almost Shakespearean in nature, as satire and parody making fun of the government, making fun of being married…It was really one of the first places that gave a woman a stage to be the center of.”
“Burlesque-A-Pades” is The Birchmere’s running Valentine’s tradition, a single night only experience that combines live music, comedy, drag and world class burlesque performances. In its fifteenth year, it spans to include an impressive cast alongside Pontanti. Her husband, Brian Newman, will head the band accompaniment to the show — an act he’s well versed in, as jazz attacheé to Lady Gaga — as well as infamous drag king Murray Hill. Also joining Pontanti onstage will be New York Times reviewed Maine Attraction (Maine Anders), Boylesque King Mr. Gorgeous, Gal Friday, D.C. native Eva Mystique and Baltimore’s Tequila Honeybee.
The feather boa’d cast each bring their own unique glamor to The Birchmere’s stage.
“It has so much of everyone in it,” Pontani says. “In burlesque, you do it all yourself: choreography, producing, directing, lighting, set, costume. While it can be overwhelming at times, I feel like it’s one of the reasons you get such authenticity and passion in these shows.”
Pontani, who has been dubbed “the Italian Stallionette,” is in her twentieth year of performing burlesque, and yet her excitement when she speaks is palpable. She oozes praise for the other performers, so much that you might not know it was her that headlined the show.
Victorian theatrical burlesque, also known as “extravaganza,” boomed in London theaters in the 1830’s and 1890’s. Hallmarks of the art form included the occasional risqué number, but it wasn’t until burlesque gained traction in America in the late 1800’s that it began to incorporate the heavily stylized and humorous eroticism that it’s known for today. Other performance art forms, like striptease, grew out of and adjacent to burlesque. At The Birchmere, burlesque runs the perfect line between comedy and high art — in the biography of Gal Friday, one of the evening’s performers, Friday states that her signature move is “grabbing a phone from someone in the front row who’s not paying enough attention and [lodging] it firmly between her butt cheeks for the rest of the performance.”
I personally can’t imagine any way I would rather spend my weekend.
“Burlesque-A-Pades In Loveland” will see doors open at 7:30 p.m. two nights before Valentine’s Day, promising comedy and cocktails abundant for the lucky few hours it runs. When asked about the cast’s pre-show ritual, Pontani laughed before answering coyly; a shared dressing room, hair curlers strewn about, red wine free-flowing, and Nelly’s “It’s Getting Hot In Here” on the speakers. If the behind-the-scenes is at all indicative of what’s to come, then we simply cannot wait to see “Burlesque-A-Pades.”
Burlesque-A-Pades In Loveland will show at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 12 at The Birchmere Music Hall. Tickets are $29.50 each and are available for purchase online or via the box office.