If there is a theatrical heaven, then it's just south of the tracks of downtown Fullerton's transportation center, and I'm sitting front-row center. While the sultry strains of maybe the sultriest James Bond theme song ever, For Your Eyes Only, fills the Maverick Theater, five impossibly gorgeous, impossibly fit young women dressed in clothes more suitable for the beach than a theater sway behind a full-length chiffon curtain.
It's rehearsal for The Burlesque of Bond, the latest cinema-infused offering courtesy of Brian Newell and his Maverick Theater. Marrying video projections and stylish lighting and sound techniques with traditional theater elements of dance, live music and three-dimensional sets, the show, Newell hopes, pays homage to both the world's most successful film franchise as well as the much-maligned genre of burlesque.
“Even before we opened this theater, I knew I wanted to do some kind of burlesque show,” says Newell, who launched the Maverick in 2002. “Something that was classy but titillating and that would hopefully bring in people to the theater who don't regularly come. And the more I thought about the kind of themes I could do with such a show, like girls dressed as cops, the more I kept thinking there had to be a Bond bit. Then the Bond concept just took over.”
Newell is a huge fan of both the 21-film oeuvre of the suave British spy and burlesque, which enjoyed a long history before declining in the late 1950s into a tawdry mess some two degrees removed from a Tijuana donkey show. While not classic burlesque in the sense that nothing is being pointedly ridiculed or satirized, a show featuring gun-toting femmes fatales sexily dancing to a live 10-piece orchestra—with comic relief supplied by faux Bond impersonators—certainly falls within the burlesque milieu.
“I want this to feel like you're going out to see a Vegas show,” says Newell, who recommends that people dress in cocktail attire—and not even think about trying to slip the dancers dollar bills. “People who aren't educated in burlesque might think this is just some kind of striptease, but it's not. The naughtiness is there, I guess, but it's safe, and there's no nudity, and it's accessible to anyone. I think of it more as a ballet than anything else.”
Of course, when these ballerinas are dressed in skintight leather and toting automatic weapons, this is the kind of ballet that even Quentin Tarantino might like.
The Burlesque of Bond is the second burlesque offering to launch in Orange County. Since December, the Orange County Underground Burlesque Society has mounted two late-night shows each month at the Hunger Artists Theatre, also located in Fullerton. A core of six comic actresses engage in rather creative, blue-tinged thematic evenings that take traditional feminine roles—from virginal fairytale characters to Rosie the Riveter blue-collar workers—and sex them up in a fun way.
Both theater troupes' offerings are examples of burlesque's collective face-lift. Long reviled by proto-feminists as a glaring example of the objectification of women, burlesque has clawed its way back toward some measure of respectability, thanks to Third Wave feminism's revisionist take that burlesque liberated its women practitioners economically and sexually. It's staging an interesting comeback, with a “new burlesque” movement surfacing on both sides of the Atlantic, its decidedly old-school sexuality posing in stark contrast to the graphic sexuality found in everything from Vanity Fair clothing advertisements to Asstraffic.com
“Nowadays, everything is so exposed that the idea of going back to this old-fashioned reality of sexy fun that is more about what you're not showing as opposed to what you're showing is powerful,” says Orange County Underground Burlesque Society founder Melanie Gable. “You can go online and find whatever gnarly porn you want, but it's pretty rare to have a well-rounded creative performance that is very sexy but also a lot of fun and not about a body reaction as much as an emotional reaction that can make people laugh.
“I'm not nave enough to think that every member of the audience picks up on the subtlety, and I'm sure there are a lot of people who would argue, but, for me, personally, it's very empowering and subtly feminist and it's a great way to express my own fantasies in a fun, sexy way.”
The Burlesque of Bond at the Maverick Theater, 110 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-7070; www.mavericktheater.com. Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m. Through July 7. $15-$30; Worldly Women by the Orange County Underground Burlesque Society at the Hunger Artists Theatre, 701 S. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 680-6803; www.hungerartists.net; www.myspace.com/ocubs. June 15-16, 11 p.m. $15.
Joel Beers has written about theater and other stuff for this infernal rag since its very first issue in, when was that again???