Burlesque stems from a rich performance tradition dating back hundreds of years; contrary to popular belief, there’s a lot more involved than people taking off their clothes. Originally synonymous with satire or parody — especially of popular art, music or literature — in the 19th century, the term “burlesque” came to mean a variety show similar to vaudeville, which featured music, comedy and beautiful dancing girls. Gradually, the music and comedy diminished, as did the costumes of the female performers, until little remained but striptease.
Still, many of the great comedians of the 20th century got their start in burlesque, including Mae West, Danny Thomas, Sid Caesar and Red Skelton. Renewed interest has led to postmodern revivals of the art form in the past two decades, and the Henderson Brothers are bringing their unique take on the genre to Trustus Theatre just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Chad Henderson and Terrance Henderson aren’t actual brothers, but they have often worked together (as director and choreographer, respectively) on productions at Trustus Theatre, including Spring Awakening and Ragtime. Chad Henderson became interested in burlesque after meeting performers from the Key West Burlesque troupe during a summer residency in 2009, and recruited his friend Terrance to collaborate on an original show for Columbia audiences. Meanwhile, Lee Ann Kornegay was looking for a new twist for the popular annual What’s Love celebration, where Henderson Bros. Burlesque debuted in 2013 as the centerpiece of the Valentine’s Day arts event at 701 Whaley. Reaching out to their contacts in the local theater and dance community, they “found an amazing group that made the first show such a joy to work on, and such a great night for our patrons,” who numbered over 600, Chad Henderson recalls.
Shirley McGuinness, a longtime fan of (and occasional performer in) burlesque, believes that Columbia is “a city begging for the suggestive entendre that comes with burlesque,” adding that it’s a natural fit for someplace that bills itself as Famously Hot.
“I love how burlesque pushes your idea of what entertainment is supposed to be,” she says. “It makes you laugh at things that are serious, and treats the potentially titillating with artistic integrity.”
This year’s new, revised and improved incarnation will be presented over three nights at Trustus.
“Because the show is at our home base and not off-site this year, we’ve got more scenic and lighting control,” says director Henderson. He promises “a lot of new, exciting music in the show,” including music by Prince, Stevie Wonder, Beyoncé, AC/DC, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake “and even a jazz standard or two,” he says.
Co-creator Terrance Henderson returns as both choreographer and performer, appearing as Emcee Nauti Boogie. Also returning will be Hunter Boyle (as vaudeville clown Bumbleclap McGee) and vocalist Kendrick Marion, along with new cast member Katrina Blanding. Burlesque artist Sugar St. Germaine will bring the sexy back with a fan dance, Latte Love will perform what is billed as a “dressing screen act,” and all genders, races, ages and body shapes will be represented on stage.
Overall, more than 20 performers are involved, including a seven-piece band led by music director Jeremy Polley.
While there are many modern variations on classic burlesque, Chad Henderson anticipates “a bit of a Las Vegas vibe,” evoking “the spirit of the ’20s with cultural elements from today.”
Just don’t imagine that you’re going to a strip club.
“At a burlesque show, there’s production value: costumes, props and even scenic elements,” Henderson explains. “The acts are focused on command of the audience and the tease. It’s sexy, yes. It’s revealing, yes. But the performers are in control, and it’s their goal to make the audience yearn for more, not give it to them from the start. We strive to bring alive the decadence of the ’20s at our show, and give people a chance to be engaged, excited, and yes — even aroused.”
Henderson Bros. Burlesque runs Feb. 13-15 at 8 p.m. at Trustus Theatre (520 Lady St.), with additional late-night performances Feb. 14-15 at 10 p.m. As Free Times went to press, most shows were sold out, but standing room-only tickets were still available for $20. Call the box office at 254-9732 for more information.
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