Quinn Lemley’s Burlesque to Broadway
Plays Cutting Room Mondays in November
By: Ellis Nassour
We all know that dazzling redhead – No! Not Lucy, but – singer/dancer extraordinary Quinn Lemley, who’s come a long way, baby, from her girl-next-door Indiana roots to become a reigning goddess of the art of burlesque.
You may recall her "spellbinding" revue tribute to screen goddess Rita Hayworth, The Heat Is On and her steamy rendition of the classic "Put the Blame on Mame" from the 40s film noir Gilda*. That show had an encore performance in New York earlier this month at 54 Below.
[* Trivia: Hayworth was dubbed by the queen of Hollywood lip-syncing, sultry jazz/blues star Anita Ellis, the sister of Broadway’s Larry Kert, the original Tony in West Side Story.]
Now, the indefatigable Lemley is bringing her much-acclaimed new "high-octane" theatrical concert revue Burlesque to Broadway, which has been playing sell-out performances on a national tour, "to dazzle" audiences Mondays at 8 P.M. at the Cutting Room (44 East 32nd Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). The original cast recording is now on CD.
Lemley describes the show as "a lightning-in-a-bottle survey of American burlesque. From its vintage beginnings a century ago, to its embrace by the American musical, to its current neo-burlesque revival, the art of burlesque has never faded from the American entertainment landscape. Sadly, it went from tantalizing to bawdy. Our goal was to turn it back to its roots and play on its dazzle, wit, and just tease.
"One of my goals for the show," she continues, "was to have women everywhere
celebrate their greatness. Life is so challenging now. It’s all about feeling free to be who you are or who you want to be – no matter your age."
Through 19 songs/production numbers that include "Ten Cents a Dance," "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," "Put the Blame on Mame," "Bewitched , Bothered, and Bewildered," "Let Me Entertain You," and "The Heat Is On" to songs of empowerment such as "You Don’t Own Me" and "When You’ve Got it, Flaunt It."
Lemley leads a coterie of showgirls in sequins, feathers, and fans — Stacey Harris, Jenna Rubaii, Samantha Stolzfus, and Chelsea Turbin — through heart-racing choreography by David Eggers [Nice Work If You Can Get It, Anything Goes] in eye-popping costumes by Wendall Goings [Rock of Ages]. The consulting director is esteemed Tony and Drama Desk winner Joseph Hardy [Child’s Play; with a DD nomination for You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown*].
[* Hardy also directed the stage adaptation of Gigi (1973); the 1976 revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana, which starred Richard Chamberlain, Dorothy McGuire, and Sylvia Miles; and Romantic Comedy (1979) headlined by Anthony Perkins and Mia Farrow.]
Music director is Daniel Lincoln, conducting a "razor-sharp" nine-piece band. Long-time Bette Midler collaborator Steve Rawlins provides the orchestrations.
To prepare for the show, Lemley and her chorus gals actually attended burlesque School, "mainly to learn the art of how to use those huge ostrich feather fans!"
Quinn Lemley has been belting tunes and dancing up a storm from the moment she could totter around. "A lot of what I grew up doing," she says, "was simply based on natural impulse, but I was in the Bible Belt so I had to maintain a certain sense of decorum."
Maybe that’s why she has such a great time breaking loose in Burlesque to Broadway and The Heat Is On.
Her parents were amazingly supportive, making sure she had singing, dancing, and acting lessons. After a year studying opera in France, a season at Interlochen Arts Academy in Switzerland, and then the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, Lemley burst onto the New York scene. She worked onstage, in theater, film, and in concert and cabaret. With her persona firmly established, she headed aboard, touring and making waves in Europe and Asia. An early show, Born to Rumba, had her portraying a nun recalling her life as a showgirl in Cuba.
"Creating my own shows as opposed to just standing at a mike and singing excited me," she says. "Of all people, it was my mother who brought to my attention the fact that burlesque was having resurgence. I’d seen the Folies Bergere and Lido in Paris, so that was a primer. Then, I began reading everything I could find by and about Gypsy Rose Lee. I wondered what her act was like; what made her so famous? She wasn’t beautiful, didn’t sing or dance, and barely took off her clothes."
She found fascinating details about burlesque life in books by Lee’s sister, June Havoc, and research on Sally Rand, Bettie Page, Mae West, and famed strippers Tempest Storm and Blaze Starr. "These women were smart. Many came out of the depression and managed to create lasting images and become self-made successes in a certain niche. They played vaudeville and burlesque, eventually changing the way America looked at women performers."
There was another mega success story in the 60s. Having paid her dues in
Hollywood B-films, former star of Minsky’s Burlesque, Ann Corio mounted This
Was Burlesque which toured on and off for literally 20 years, playing in New York
in the early 70s. It was staged and directed by Richard Barstow, a legendary theatrical and revue director/choreographer, who also staged spectaculars for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for three decades.
Admission for Quinn Lemley: Burlesque to Broadway is $20- $35, with loaded VIP packages for $69 and $120. Purchase at www.thecuttingroomnyc.com or www.BurlesqueToBroadway.com or call (212) 691-1900. Cutting Room doors at
6:30 P.M. for drinks and dinner from the reasonably-priced menu.