People…I’m not a fan of audience participation. The mere suggestion of it usually makes me break out in a cold sweat. But for some reason, when MC Adelaide Everheart brought it up in the opening monologue of Melbourne’s Best Burlesque I didn’t feel the cold grip of death upon my heart. A large part of this has to do with the venue. If you’ve never been to the Butterfly Club, it can be quite confronting to attend a burlesque show there. Burlesque is rarely known for being shy and retiring, and the theatre at Butterfly lets you get even more up close and personal than usual. The result of this though, was that when Ms Everheart suggested that there might be audience participation, it felt more like having a few drinks and being silly with friends, rather than the terrifying ordeal that befell me that one time at Cirque du Soleil.
Melbourne’s Best Burlesque (MBB) reminds me of a line from Welcome to Night Vale: “A restaurant has appeared just outside of town bearing the name ‘Best Burgers in Town’…its claim is as suspicious as its sudden appearance.” Having said that, MBB, while perhaps not the absolute best burlesque I’ve ever seen in Melbourne, is still far from the worst (that dubious honour belongs to a certain French show performed at Crown Casino).
Adelaide Everheart acted not only as our MC for the evening, but also as the Stage Kitten (meow) and still managed to get through two musical performances in the style of Scott Bradley’s Post Modern Jukebox (and three outfit changes)! Ms Everheart proved to be an exceptional choice for hosting duties. Her daggy enthusiasm was more infectious than gonorrhea, and her self-deprecating humour helped to make the small stage and seating capacity feel intimate and friendly instead of awkward.
Ms Everheart’s description of herself as five dads in a Marlene Dietrich outfit was apt; her litany of christmas cracker jokes and “ba dum tsh” delivery was evocative of burlesque’s vaudeville roots. This is a refreshing change from the more ubiquitous neo-burlesque that we see more often now (side-eying you Ms Dita Von Teese).
MBB featured an additional three artists who performed two acts each. The first was Betty Blood, whose first act was a more traditional striptease that complimented Adelaide Everheart’s vaudeville hosting style. The music was loud enough to create an immersive environment for the audience and Blood’s human embodiment of “hellfire” was entertaining.
Her second act was far more contemporary, and as Ms Everheart stated, should be labelled a “human trigger warning”. It was very burlesque noir and appeared to be an interpretive dance reenacting the life of Mrs Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction. It was an elegant and appreciated palate cleanser after the first half of the show.
The second performer was Kerry X, who is known for her elaborate costumes and steam punk aesthetic. Having seen her perform recently at The Kitten Club, it was a pleasure to see two new routines from her. Where many burlesque performers will see their nudity as the big finish, a kind of “ta-da, I was naked all along”, Kerry X treats her reveal as the foreplay. She’s often close to completely naked for the majority of her act and her use of bellydance elements make her a thoroughly enjoyable artist to watch. Her second act however was a true stand out; featuring an elaborate eucharist prop setup and a detailed religious costume, I can honestly say I’ve never been more turned on by holy water.
The third performer was Matty B, a circus acrobat. It’s always a pleasure to see a male performer in a burlesque show; an acknowledgement of the female gaze. Matty B’s stage persona embraced an awkward, gawky guy schtick which was in hilarious counterpoint to his absurd abs. Watching him support and contort himself in nothing but tighty-whiteys was a soothing balm at the end of a long week. His second act was more physical enthusiasm than raw skill, in contrast to his first. However the spontaneous flips and acrobatics reminded the audience that he wasn’t the dweeb he was pretending to be. His request for audience participants was probably left until too late in the evening, as his volunteers appeared to be far too willing (and wobbly on their feet) to be sober. But Matty B made do with professional composure.
Overall, Melbourne’s Best Burlesque was a reminder that there is an art to the tease. Seeing each performer a second time didn’t lessen the impact of their act, despite already knowing what they looked like naked. For the ticket price, it is an absolute worthwhile show to see and a great date night activity.