Well, it is a fusion of musical theatre and ‘cirque’, though if you’re going in with an expectation of hearing the sort of showtunes that wouldn’t go amiss on the BBC’s ‘Elaine Paige on Sunday’, you may be a little miffed by the chart music that takes up a good portion of proceedings in Burlesque’D. the storyline may not, for the most part, be anything new, inasmuch as there is nothing new under the sun. I had the privilege of revisiting the West End revival of 42nd Street recently and there, as here, a fresh-faced performer with a heart full of dreams and ambitions leaves her hometown in pursuit of stardom. Substitute Allentown for Massachusetts, New York for Hollywood, Peggy Sawyer for Crystal Lake (Charlotte Jeffery), and the skeleton structure for the show is more or less there.
The devil is in the detail, however, and when the burlesque venue run by Sofia (Valentina Canadiani) must find new premises on account of a change of proprietor, a subplot develops. While the happy ending is somewhat predictable, the route taken to get there is less so, and it is pleasing to note, in the context of #MeToo and #TimesUp, that this group of scantily dressed ladies use legal and contractual means to their advantage rather than having (or indeed choosing) to sleep with anyone to get what they want.
The ambience of the venue for Burlesque’D does not lend itself perfectly to the quieter scenes with spoken dialogue – and, dare I say it, at least from my vantage point, the occasional line was difficult to decipher: more amplification wouldn’t have gone amiss. The production gets the sound pitch perfect when it comes to the musical numbers, helped by some stunning vocals. I can’t pick out a stand-out performance – they all work very well together, and it is always good to see a cast clearly enjoying themselves on stage.
I can’t imagine it would have been nearly as easy as the company make it look to dance in those high heels: it brought to mind a lady I once saw at Gatwick Airport who, having underestimated the walk to get to where she was going, had given up on going any further in heels, having taken hers off and continuing on barefoot. The Emcee (James Paton) does much more than introduce acts tell the audience what is coming up, with a rope routine duet with him and Sofia proving to be a particularly memorable moment.
The stage action goes up a few notches in the second half, and some vibrant routines make for a good night out. It could just about be merged into a one-act show – it would need to be if it were to be taken, for instance, to the Edinburgh Fringe (I think it would fit in well there). The set is fairly simple as it stands, though the production uses the available performance space very well. Although it extends into the audience there isn’t even a scintilla of audience participation: it’s all left to the professionals. There’s a pole – why wouldn’t there be? – but it is rather underused, and I wonder if it could be dispensed with altogether. But, at the end of the day, this is a show with a palpable feelgood factor, with recognisable songs to enjoy.
Photo credit: Vicky Murua