by: JK Clarke
If ever there was a call for a comprehensive seminar on the musical history of burlesque, Quinn Lemley’s Burlesque to Broadway would surely fit the bill. The production is a primer on the art of bawdy musical theater as it evolved from the heady days of Vaudeville, in the hands of legends like Mae West, to its eventual incorporation into sultry Broadway productions and popular culture at large.
The first thing one notices about these once “salacious” numbers is how many of them—from “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” to “Big Spender”—are hallmark show tunes, known to even the most novice theater-goer. These burlesque-themed numbers are among the most noteworthy standards ever written. Clearly burlesque’s relationship with Broadway is beyond intimate.
Quinn Lemley sings the numbers with gusto, along with backup singers Jessica Bare and Sarah Rolleston. And all three, along with additional backup performers, punctuate the numbers with seductive dances and flourishes. Lemley’s in-between banter plays like a lesson, but with salty borscht-belt jokes, which fall somewhat flat for their lack of setup or proper comic timing: we know all these gags already, but punchlines without proper buildup do not comedy make.
However, it’s the production numbers that make the show, and some shine more brightly than others, such as the final one, the Megamix, a beautiful fan dance that finally gives us the long-awaited big “reveal.” Wendall Goings’ costumes and fans are rich and lovely, and Lemley takes advantage with countless costume changes to represent each passing era in the lesson. The only head scratching moment feature is backup dancers’ hairstyles, which are more reminiscent of 1980s and 1990s New Jersey shopping mall rather than anything from the eras portrayed.
Of special note is the sharp and deeply talented band led by Director Conductor Dan Micchiche. From Broadway to Burlesque provides a pleasant night of well-sung show tunes, great music and a rudimentary lesson in the history of burlesque.
*Photos: Courtesy Century Artists Mgmt.
From Burlesque to Broadway played February 5-8 at the Gramercy Theater (127 E. 23rd Street at Lexington Avenue). Future dates TBA. www.burlesquetobroadway.com