Last night I attended the press preview showing of Santa’s Naughty & Nice Burlesque show at the South of Broadway Theater in North Charleston, and let me tell you: the cast and crew want you to have a good time. They really do. They’re warm and welcoming, and your burlesque experience begins almost as soon as you walk through the theater doors.
Suddenly, you’re transported back in time to 1939, after the fall of Prohibition but before the wrath of the second world war ripped the country apart. Surrounding you inside the dinner-theater setup are rich satin tablecloths and crystal chandeliers, all evoking the post-Depression splendor of classic Hollywood.
Greeting you are the table tootsies, a buxom crew of ladies decked head to toe in sparkles, feathers and lace, with sequined corsets molding their bodies into gravity-defying shapes. Trixie, Mona, Fanny, and Lucille are 100 percent in character, 100 percent of the time. Picture Betty Boop complete with red lips, hot pants, and stylized, old-school Jersey accents. This can be a little discomfiting when you and your husband are the only non-cast members in the room, but their commitment to their characters is to be admired.
The hostess of the night is Virginia, a wine-slinging mix of Marilyn Monroe and a trannie straight out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “Aren’t you glad Prohibition ended?” she asked in with drawling southern charm,when visiting our table during an intermission. I nodded as I gratefully sipped my generic red wine.
The show’s take on classical Hollywood burlesque is entertaining: a little sexy, a lot silly, never quite taking itself too seriously. The songs and dances are loosely tied together with a vague love story — “Mr. Kringle” is a frequent guest at the burlesque, and he’s in love with Gypsy Rosa Rae, who doubts the veracity of his admiration. The story is mild, but sweet, and Gypsy Rosa Rae herself is lovely on stage. She has a pretty voice, she dances well, and she juggles the duties of singing and falling in love with ease.
Mr. Kringle is a handful, wearing a bright red tuxedo and a thick, powdered-gray beard. He’s got a couple solo songs, and his voice is surprisingly versatile. I was willing to forgive a few sharp notes for the overall pleasure of listening to him sing, and watching him throw himself full-force into each number.
The best parts of the show included the dancers, the Holy City Harlettes, all of whom were really fun to watch. When “Cici” came out to do a Cyd Charisse-style solo to the tune of “Sugar Rum Cherry,” it was simple and elegant. I loved it.
This wasn’t a perfect show, though it was a fun one. The energy was a little lacking at times, but when there’s an audience of eight members of the press, most of whom were quite reserved, the occasional flatness was understandable. An audience of rowdy, drunk friends and family would make for an entirely different experience.
Of course, there was a benefit to being part of such a small audience. With a distinct lack of men around us, my husband got all the attention meant to be spread throughout the room. He handled it about as well as a reserved kind of guy could, even keeping a smile on his face when Lucille pulled him up on stage for a mild and innocent lap dance.
The songs included Christmas hits (though I don’t know that the doo-wop version of “White Christmas” was from the right time period) and some old jazz standards. One of my favorites was a duet of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Mr. Kringle and Gypsy Rosa Rae. But it was the classics like “Hey Big Spender,” “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” and “I Wanna Be Loved By You” that really succeeded in taking us back in time.
The costumes are all to die for, and by the end of the show the stage was littered with sequins and feathers, always the mark of a good night. And though I spent half the show waiting for an FCC-worthy nip slip from one of the table tootsies, all their bits and parts stayed where they were supposed to.
If you want a night of silly, light-hearted, slightly bawdy fun, then definitely gather your friends, have a drink, and head on over to South of Broadway Theater for Santa’s Naughty & Nice Burlesque Show.