Rachel Weed originally wasn’t going to do what’s politely called a reveal when she takes the stage as Lily L’Amour in Burlesque Le’Moustache this weekend at The Capitol Theatre in downtown Davenport.
But then her mother called her a chicken and Weed bought a pair of pasties.
“She going to be right here in the front row, cheering me on,” Weed said of her mom.
Vaudeville is making a comeback long after its heyday in the early 1900s, when The Capitol Theatre was a stop on the burlesque circuit. Burlesque troupes and festivals are fueling the return in big cities such as Austin, Texas, and New York. In Chicago, there are vaudeville shows playing almost every night of the week. That’s where Danielle Colby-Cushman, who takes the stage as “Dannie Diesel,” first encountered the theatrical form eight years ago.
“I fell in love with the empowerment that I felt when I left and the sense of strength the girls had,” she said. “I watched and I was like, ‘I want that. I want to have that kind of confidence in myself no matter what I look like.’ ”
Now Colby-Cushman has trained a group of area women in the classic vaudeville comedy, dance and balloon pop routines. The women, ranging in size from 2 to 12, also share her sense of female empowerment because of burlesque.
Becky Wren, who goes by the stage name “Birdie Belleville,” carefully drew a sideburn on her left cheek with eyeliner and applied lipstick to the right side of her mouth before a dress rehearsal of her half-man, half-woman routine. To her right hung her handmade costume — half of it a baby pink, spaghetti-strap prom dress from her junior year of high school and the other half a man’s suit and bow tie.
“They still tease me about it because they thought I’d never do it,” said Wren, who spent her first few vaudeville classes in sweats before eventually adopting a pair of boy’s shorts. “It took awhile. Now it seems hard to get dressed on a daily basis because I’ve been spending so much time in pantyhose.”
Colby-Cushman and Lon Bozarth, the general manager of The Capitol Theatre, both hope to educate the Quad-Cities that burlesque is an art form, albeit a satirical one, not a strip club with fancy footwork. They hope Burlesque Le’Moustache will pave the way for more vaudeville shows in the area.
“It’s such a wonderful blend of comedy and music, dance and satirical humor that it transcends sexiness and becomes kind of a gaudy, risque form of humor,” Bozarth said. “There’s nothing lewd, and there’s nothing immoral about the performance. It’s all in good fun. It’s more of a titillating form of entertainment.”