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Review: Prague Burlesque at Theatre Royal

in Culture

Cabaret-style shows takes the striptease back in time

Over the years, burlesque as a form of entertainment lost its meaning. Up until the 1950s it was a less serious form of variety show.  After that, it began to decline in quality. A new show at Café Royal takes burlesque back to its heyday.

Burlesque at Theatre Royal, Prague
When: Every Friday, starting Oct. 3, at 9 p.m.
Where: Vinohradská 48
Leroyal.cz

The show was conceived by director and producer David N. Jahn, who appears in the show as his alter-ego Sonny Vargas. Most of the show involves a small cast of women performing tasteful striptease and fan dances to classic pop tunes from bygone years.

The show takes the audience back in time to an era when a bit of titillation in the midst of an elaborate show still had some class, and the dancers put on highly choreographed numbers. The show makes for a pleasant night out, as the overall mood of the evening is charming, somewhat old-fashioned fun.

Jahn told the Prague Post that his male character is nonetheless important. “I am creating the counterpoints for them for the motivation to strip. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense,” he said.

His character has a bit of background that isn’t fully apparent on stage.

“The character is Panama born. His uncle is Manuel Noriega. When he first saw Karel Gott in Las Vegas he decided to make a huge career and he moved to the Czech Republic,” Jahn said.

The show does start with Vargas singing a loungy song about girl watching. The follow up is an elaborate striptease, the first of many in the show. None of the numbers has actual nudity, in keeping with the idea of reviving burlesque back to what it was at its height. Something is always left to the imagination.

Each number has a theme as well, ranging from the African jungle to police uniforms to the circus to a domestic scene with a bored husband.  The set is quite complex, with a cage on one side and a swing on the other, projected backgrounds and various props. The numbers become a bit more complex as the show goes on.

“We are spending lots of money on stage props, on costumes,” Jahn said. Burlesque began to lose its quality when producers began to cut corners to save money, he added. “That is why it became what it became.”

The three main dancers Lady Mousellyca, Angelina Angelic and Miss Cool Cat, plus a few backup dancers, change character from scene to scene. Vargas also reappears in multiple costumes.

The stage curtain is in constant use; while one act or song takes place in front of the curtain, the set is changed behind it.

Jahn began experimenting with his show in 2007. “Since then, the ensemble changed five times,” he added. Few professional dancers are willing to work in burlesque these days. The dancers are mostly friends and acquaintances. “It is almost impossible to get professionals,” he said, adding that he has to train the dancers from scratch.

But that may help, as the dancers seem to enjoy the show and interacting with the audience.

There is also some variety to the dancers, as they do not all have the typical figure that professional dancers have.  The audience seemed to appreciate this, though.

The show will be at Theatre Cinema Café Royal every Friday. From week to week small changes will be made. One or two songs will be different. “I am changing [the show] constantly. …I am telling the girls each of them needs double of triple their repertoire,” Jahn said.

An important element is also the Midnight Surprise. Jahn is inviting burlesque performers from London, Berlin and other locales to come to a special set after the main show ends.

Jahn says that his interest in burlesque comes from his childhood. Two of his grandparents were opera singers and he enjoyed seeing operetta. He wanted to bring some of the light entertainment of operetta back to the stage.

Theatre Cinema Café Royal, to use its full name, was built in 1929 and does have a large enough stage for shows of this kind, and even dressing rooms under the stage. The café now has lounge chairs and tables in place of the cinema seats that used to be there. So it is the perfect setting for this kind of cabaret show. You can even get champagne at your seat.  Jahn said he hopes that his show has now found a permanent home in the Royal.

The opening show sold out, so advance tickets are recommended.

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