The Sophisticates

Like some Cold War Russian mole, burlesque likes to play a dangerous double game. The ideal burlesque show (for most of us) is both classy and dangerous. (Seedy and dangerous is for people with a problem. Classy and tame is for people who don’t live in New York). The Sophisticates tested that postulate when they brought their act to the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel a while back, and lost the dice roll. The trappings in that room are perfect, but you got little old ladies from Ohio walking through the lobby. So now the Sophisticates are back down at the Metropolitan Room, a venue I’d been hearing about for months, and it looks fabulous in the picture, and I have kept meaning to check out and….

It turns out to be nothing more than the old Gotham Comedy Club with a bit of a renovation. Which is not to diss it unduly. It is what it is, but let’s just say to invest it with sumptuous richness is a credit to what we call “theatre magic”, chandelier notwithstanding. It’s no worse than other venues of its type, but you’re hearing from a man who likes a little space, a lot of privacy, and plenty of barriers between YOU and ME. I am the product of four centuries of New England culture. I like nightclub entertainment, but I think my ideal way to experience it would be through a telescope from the top of the Widow’s Walk like Captain Brassbound. (H’m, I guess a little farther back and it could be called “television”). I don’t go for a thing where first it’s a line, and then the tables are so close together that you actually have to climb into your seat like it’s the cockpit of an experimental fighter-jet, and then everyone around you is crammed in like steerage passengers (“This is like the Middle Passage,” I said to the Countess but then she told me I had gone too far.) And the people next to you are so close their conversation is right in your ear, so now I know all about the lady next to me’s sister in Florida’s marital and financial problems. It’s quite true. I almost turned to her and said, “Ya know? She should dump him. Why doesn’t she show some assertiveness and make him get a job?”

So why go to a burlesque show, you may have asked yourself several sentences ago? Well, burlesque shows are GREAT! Are you kiddin’? Beautiful dancers, and colorful costumes, and funny routines, and music, and comedy, etc etc? It’s just that I’m the type that wants to be in a booth in the back (and in one of those nightclubs from the Hollywood movies). The Metropolitan Room is, shall we say, an intimate joint. And many people will love it for precisely that reason. From the point of view of having a strange girl sit in your lap or put her chest in your face, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. (Although I, who am so tense that I sometimes break my pencil when writing burlesque reviews, counted myself as fortunate to be so wedged in that the dancers couldn’t get to me without some sort of stilts or trapeze). And I know for a fact my date felt the same!

Of the artful ecdysiasts on view, I have only positive impressions to report. Co-producer and headliner Madame Rosebud launched the proceedings with a Gwen Verdon like energy, establishing the protocols of what host Bastard Keith calls “Burlettiquette”.  Canadian cutie Bettina May, whom we first saw at Gotham Burlesque (see report here) started out with a sort of coy, innocent dance to Ginger Rogers’ “I’m Feeling Like a Million” then switched to a snarling sax driven song and shook her money maker. And that corset must have been TIGHT, for when she took it off, if left marks! The Maine Attraction (who will be featured in Burlesque-A-Pades starting October 12) did two amazing numbers. In the first she came out to a bebop number with pearls dangling out of her underwear. Then she did something suggestive with her gloves, only I wouldn’t really say she suggested anything — more like she said it straight out. The second number was a Josephine Baker style Charleston routine to a Benny Goodman tune, which climaxed with her spread eagle and upside down in the lap of the woman next to me. Tell THAT to your sister in Florida! And Kristina Nekyia, who came out in a small, sheer dress and did a lithe, sinewy, dance, ending with a couple of fans.

NOW: I’ve been fixing once again to rave about producer and host Bastard Keith, but I just looked at my last review of him (for Revealed Burlesque, see here)  and it pretty much already covered everything I want to say. But, nah, you can always say more.  In a word, I think if there’s any justice in the world he’ll go far, and to boil it down to a slugline, he’s TOO BIG for BURLESQUE. That’s not to disparage burlesque, it’s just to say it’s only one branch of the showbiz tree, and he’s got talent that would translate well into, say, television and millions of viewers.

I’ve not seen him act so I don’t know how he’d be in a legit role, but I do know he’s an amazing singer and a downright dazzling comedian, and what I love best about him is he never dumbs it down. Contrary to the usual show biz “wisdom”, Keith talks to the audience like they’ve got a brain in their fuckin’ head, and you know what? They love it! They think he’s hysterical! And that’s because he is. Not only does he ad lib with terrifying precision and confidence, but he also writes hysterical comedy bits. In one segment, he weaves a convoluted and sordid tale of drugs and prostitutes in a New Orleans strip joint, culminating in the punchline that this is his “most romantic story”. In another, he recruits three ladies from the audience for a “screen test” in which he forces them to say absurdly complimentary things to him (“You’re a ginger Apollo, Bastard Keith.”) And the idea of a guy singing? There’s a long tradition of the male emcee being a crooner in burlesque. Keith’s got a crazy set of pipes and plenty of attitude as he belts out (and means) “I’m Your Man”. Like I said before, he’s ready to play the big rooms.

Now, I confess the Countess and I missed the end of the show. I had a 6am bus next morning and I’m an early bird anyway. Probably would have split when I did anyway, good as the show was. So please know there could well have been something amazing at the end of the show that I completely missed.

Why don’y you go see it and report back to ME? The Sophisticates plays at the Metropolitan Room the 2nd and 4th Friday of every month at 11:30pm. The next one is sept 21st. For more info check out 212-206-0440

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