By Thom Jennings
This week the Seneca Niagara Casino hosts an exclusive three-night run of the show “Burlesque to Broadway” starring Quinn Lemley. About a month ago, the show’s publicist reached out to me by phone to see if I would be interested in interviewing Lemley about the show, and when my wife overheard I was considering covering a “burlesque” show, she dismissed it as a form of striptease.
Before we get to the interview, it may be important to clarify what burlesque is, and its influence on modern culture. While traditional burlesque shows did include some bawdy elements and occasional nudity, the bulk of the show is a visual, musical and comedic extravaganza. Think Lady Gaga without the meat costume and a lot more humor.
My description of the art form does not do it justice, but Lemley, a gorgeous red head, not only stars in the show, she speaks of the art form with an infectious enthusiasm that would make even the most skeptical person want to see her show. In short, she is burlesque’s ambassador.
“Our show is not a striptease show, it is all about the power of women and a celebration of women and how they went to burlesque to Broadway and beyond,” Lemley quickly pointed out during our recent interview.
Lemley then quickly rattled off a who’s who of the art form, including Gypsy Rose Lee, Mae West, Cher, Bette Midler, Fanny Brice, and Sally Rand.
As for the misperception that burlesque is a fancy name for a bunch of strippers — “During the depression era, burlesque performers used the power of suggestion. There is neo-burlesque going on today, but women like Gypsy Rose Lee barely took anything off, she used her wit and mind to become a legend.”
That power of suggestion is somewhat of a lost art form given the modern day entertainment industries penchant for overkill in movies, music, television and video games.
In addition to some very “sexy” women, the show incorporates a great selection of music.
“Our show features one show-stopping hit song after another from 'She’s a Lady' written by Paul Anka and made famous by Tom Jones, to songs by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and even Mel Brooks from 'The Producers.' The songs celebrate women who broke the glass ceiling and lived the American Dream.”
There are the other elements that are closely associated with burlesque, including glamorous sequined costumes and giant fans, and a few good jokes thrown in to keep the audience laughing. Comedy has long been an important component of burlesque shows.
“Abbott and Costello, Burns and Allen and even Alan Alda’s dad all came from burlesque," said Lemley. "They were masters of the double entendre as was Mae West with lines like ‘Why don’t you come up and see me sometime, I’ve got nothing on but the radio.’ ”
The show has been selling out multiple engagements and getting rave reviews in the media. Of all of her quotes about the show, my favorite from Lemley was that seeing her show was a “great way to get warm in January.” An offer I found too good to pass up, so I will be checking out this engagement.
Performances are 7 p.m. today, and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The show takes place at the Seneca Niagara Casino’s Events Center and tickets start at $25.