A couple of weeks ago I attended my first ever burlesque show. To be honest, other than striptease, I have to admit that I knew nothing about burlesque. I’ve been to my fair share of gentlemen’s clubs over the years and seen everything from exotic dancers putting on shows in the shower to the “hush-hush” of the VIP rooms. And yet nothing I’ve ever experienced at Rachel’s compares to the level of artistry combined with sensuality that I witnessed watching the Rock Bottom Burlesque troupe perform their show called Swamp Town.
In order to fully appreciate Swamp Town, I decided to go online and research the history of burlesque. I didn’t want to be the guy in the crowd who only showed up to see beautiful girls dancing in revealing costumes and sticking out like some sore thumb pervert. In my crash course on this art form, I learned that burlesque involves many things including, but not limited to: music, theater, literature, dance, humor, political satire, puppets and yes, of course, striptease! No longer could I reduce burlesque to just corset skirts, lingerie and bordello shoes (although I was pleased as punch to see them…don’t get me wrong, I am a man after all) because, as I found out, burlesque has a rich history and tradition going all the way back to the 17th century.
Rock Bottom Burlesque’s Swamp Town is a story about a rural community facing impending dangers which include greedy real estate business men hell-bent on development and commercialization, encroaching winds and water from hurricanes, trigger happy law enforcement, and the dreaded alligators which have been banned from Swamp Town, as can be seen by the sign that welcomes visitors: No Gators Permitted! The show begins with a trio of musicians; a banjo player, guitar player and washtub bass player who offer Bluegrass and Folk renditions of songs in between acts which include classic tunes like Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher. As the drama ensues, we meet church ladies on porches, drunkards in bars, a fire dancer, cryptic oracles predicting storms, bible toting preachers and lovelies baring it all – well not really because pasties were used, sorry guys!
By the time of the curtain call when the show ended, I felt really appreciative of having been invited out to watch Swamp Town. The rest of the crowd shared my sentiments, evidenced by the applause. Suddenly all the books I had read in the past of my favorite actors and musicians who performed Vaudeville and on the Chitlin’ Circuit flooded my mind, and I realized that I had just witnessed a very unique show that came out of that same tradition. The music of Swamp Town kept my head nodding and foot tapping to its energetic beat and the actors made me laugh out loud from beginning to end. The creativity of the set and costumes took us back in time to the early 1900’s where the play is set, and the dialogue was engaging; often prompting people in the audience to yell out at the players which allowed the members of the troupe to display their sharp improvisational skills. And I’m happy to report that no gators followed me home; only fond memories to last a lifetime.