by Alix Cohen
James Habacker, owner/host, has offered New York unique Vaudeville Theater over 18 years in intimate, atmospheric iterations of his iconic club: “My goal as curator of, and often performer in, the Slipper Room’s variety shows has always been to present as diverse an array of talent as possible whose common thread is the human condition. Shows include comedians, burlesque dancers, acrobats, aerialists, contortionists, circus, sideshow, and more.”
Tonight’s first show (9:30) is hosted by young Walt Whitman (shorter, grey beard.) No kidding. “Let us together find happiness, not in another place but this place.” The seminal author bridges introductions with oddly appropriate quotes from “his” poetry accompanied by muted 1970s brass, replete with recorded sighs. (Juxtaposition is inspired.) “Together we shall sound our barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” A bar-centric anecdote featuring Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson ends with double entendre utilizing e.e. cummings.
We then hear an engineered version of “Imagination” (Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley from the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory) : Come with me and you’ll be/In a world of pure imagination…The song is now slow, exaggerated, resonant, increasingly suggestive. Burlesque performer Cheeky Lane appears holding pink parasols above while a swan’s head nods in proud acknowledgment. Wonderfully dressed as a Commedia dell’arte character with stylized clown-like makeup and the bird headdress, she strips down to pasties and g-string. (All the ladies do.) Like a tableau vivant, however, she only poses and parades.
Presenting “the dance of the virgins, done from memory,” Velvetina Taylor enters dressed as a devil. This artist knows how to show off her body. An occasional finger in the mouth, torso undulation (the motion of a Lava Lamp), a snap of head, leg, or rear, and eye contact serve her well. Bending to request help in removing an opera glove, she extends her hand to a woman in the audience who bites it as Velvetina backs up. Elvis Presley music accompanies. The ladylike act borders on provocative.
AJ Silver gives us a glimpse of Bolo control (a type of South American throwing weapon made of weights on the ends of cords-like a ball at the end of a rope). Speed, focus and dexterity are required. One of these in each hand whips around, rhythmically hitting the floor between heeled flamenco stomping. Later, Silver displays excellent trick roping. Not only does he jump in and out of large, vertically spinning rings-Texas Skip, raise and lower these over his body-Flat Loop, enlarge and reduce their size and even velocity, but the moving rope almost crawls over his shoulder like an obedient pet. Whipping off his pants to reveal plaid boxers leads to a cute ending.
“I am for those who believe in loose delight…” Whitman grins. Red-headed Gigi Bon Bon wears a fringed mask and outfit extending her Amazonian height in 6” heels. All in green, she looks like a wet dream from Oz. Music is sheer New Orleans. This is an athletic performer. She can jackknife over, split, bend waaay back, shake booty with the best, and snake her way around. The sheer dominant expanse of her captivates.
Most of these acts are extremely brief, Silver’s in particular.
Instructed, we’re told, to encourage audience participation, Whitman cajoles to the stage two women on a first/Tinder date. Good looking and stylishly dressed, Kyla and Sylvana seem a good match. When our host suggests they dance, reaction is predictably embarrassed and anxious. He plies them with ostensibly loosening shots. Suddenly the two whip off their clothes to reveal black lingerie- a genuine surprise.
The aerial act, called Raven, climbs into robe rings suspended from the ceiling; hang from their knees, arms, legs; entwine, extend; turn vertical and upsidedown; hug, fold over, and mount one another as they circle, all wild hair, spread and coiled limbs, smiles. (Sorry, this was too good not to share) “O YOU whom I often and silently come where you are, that I may be with you…” comments Whitman.
During entre-act, Bon Bon’s remarkably energetic gyrations (she would’ve been great in a disco cage) and more moderate, oscillating dance by Velvetina respectively invite audience members to stuff bills into garter, g-strings and bra top. Both men and women take advantage of the opportunity, some mouth to mouth. Rock n’roll plays, white disco ball lights dapple. Some of the audience stays, some leave.
The second show is unrecognizably fronted by Whitman/Habacker as GoGoatboy; great costume, but a less successful persona. “Lead me not into temptation, just point me in the right direction and I’ll find it myself “ is the top end of patter. At one point, the host climbs up to a balcony- amazing in his hoof platforms. Oh, and he seems to drink Windex? (I didn’t get the allusion.)
Those performers who appear in both shows are described above. New in this show is Hazel Honeysuckle wearing a splendid 18th century gown that opens up (think Nutcracker Suite), then comes off by pulling strings. A beautiful young woman (they’re all attractive and have terrific bodies), this one gives the impression she knows what she’s touching when her hand travels down a leg or across her breast. It’s the first sign of eroticism tonight. Clothing is removed with feigned modesty, succeeded by relish. Honeysuckle understands real tease. Burlesque can be a powerful medium when a woman (or man- this would be worth checking out) exults in taunt, sensuality, and persuasion.
The crowd is friendly, enthusiastic and clearly includes many regulars. A wide age range is represented. Service is quick and pleasant.
The Slipper Room is fun. Let the corny, ba-dump-dump jokes fall where they may and appreciate old fashioned variety entertainment and fetching burlesque. (No nudity)
For a single entrance fee, one may stay through 2 (weekdays) or 4 successive shows (Fridays and Saturdays) with brief breaks between. There are no drink minimums! Pre-purchase reserved seating for Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday night variety shows. Friday and Saturday night all tickets are general admission and seating is first come first serve. Otherwise, one can stand at the back or perch along a sidewall until seats become available. The Slipper Room has a full bar, no food. Show nights range from $10-$40
Some performers do multiple shows with different acts, others appear and are replaced next time around. Last minute cast changes deferentially allow artists to accept more lucrative gigs should they come up. The site contains a pictorial gallery which might be helpful in deciding when to visit, though an unknown mélange is also enjoyable.
Photos by Stephen Hanks
The Slipper Room
167 Orchard Street 212 253 7246 http://www.slipperroom.com/