Some would say Kelly Monaco has sexy down cold. She's a soap star. She's posed for Playboy.
But when she's among dancers and their distinctive kind of sexy?
"I felt like a tree. A stump. And they're the leaves in the wind," she says with a laugh. "They can't do anything not sexy. It's in their genes. I'm learning from them. 'Oh, that's how you stick your ass out.' "
Some days, she would like to bring those 16 trained dancers to the set of "General Hospital," "throw them a script and tell them to learn 40 pages in the next five hours."
But the daytime TV veteran reminds herself she tackled "Peepshow" for the challenge of the creative stretch, and she's hoping it will pay off Monday with the first ticketed preview at Planet Hollywood Resort. "I think I need to get out on that stage when I know exactly what I'm doing, and feel the energy that is the reward of all of this work."
Nobody ever said it would easy to be Little Bo Peep.
And "Peepshow," in which Monaco shares billing with the Spice Girls' Mel B. (Melanie Brown), may not be an easy sell on a Strip where most every show has another one a lot like it.
How do you explain an updated burlesque revue based on nursery rhymes?
"Peepshow" has a Broadway pedigree, a hot director and a $12 million budget. But it's neither Broadway musical, the retro-burlesque of Dita Von Teese, nor an old-Vegas showgirl production full of topless women posing on staircases.
"I don't see what we're doing anywhere else here in town. I see pieces of it in other shows, but I don't see this show in town," says director Jerry Mitchell, who choreographed hits such as "Hairspray" and "Legally Blonde."
"I feel like I'm taking an old form and giving it a new coat of paint, or bringing it back," he says. "Maybe it's an old idea, but it's a fresh look at that old idea, and something new going on."
As fate would have it, previews begin just two nights after Las Vegas' oldest showgirl revue, "Folies Bergere," is set to sign off. "That's another style of show that I'm a huge fan of, but they're different than our show, too," Mitchell says. "They were completely topless revues in a time when having a woman stand onstage topless was something."
Strip clubs made nudity routine. "What's sexy about the art of the tease is actually the removal of the clothing and what you think you're going to see, and how the woman teases you and gives you a flash at the end," he says. "I think it's much more sexy. That's what we're trying to create."
Mitchell and producer Scott Zeiger have been trying to land "Peepshow" on the Strip for nearly 10 years, before booking it as the replacement for "Stomp Out Loud" in the Planet Hollywood theater operated by Zeiger's Base Entertainment.
"It really isn't about how much you see, it's about how you take it off. To me, there's a huge difference," says Mitchell, who recently signed to choreograph Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom" sequel, "Love Never Dies."
"Peepshow," which has its grand opening April 18, hopes to set itself above topless cabaret shows with a live band (all female, natch), production design by popular architect David Rockwell (who did the theater for The Venetian's custom version of "Phantom") and name stars, who will be contracted for 12-week stints.
"The most exciting thing about this project was being able to expand on a character written for my voice," says Mel B., who also is in the process of recording a pop album.
She did the Broadway musical "Rent," but was drawn to the ability to add her own ideas to her role as the Peep Diva, who guides Monaco's Bo on a journey of empowerment. The real appeal, she says, was "the opportunity to be creating everything from scratch."
Mel B. says she asked the same questions as everyone else: "What's it going to look like? What age are you going to appeal to? Is it going to (draw) just men?"
Mitchell is hoping the answer to the last one will be a resounding no. "I think women are gonna get a big kick out of it," he says. "You're taking what I think is a basic, basic idea, which is sexuality as confidence."
When this Red Riding Hood starts stripping on the hood of her red convertible, it's the wolf who'd better run for cover. Monaco's Bo is a confused modern woman who drifts into a dream land where nursery rhymes become tales of empowerment. "She's heard these stories her entire life. She's now looking at them with another eye," Mitchell explains.
The director's erotic vision becomes more clear to anyone who has seen -- in person or on YouTube -- his annual "Broadway Bares" fundraisers for the Broadway Cares organization to fight AIDS.
Mitchell started it by dancing on a bar top when he was still a chorus member of "The Will Rogers Follies" and trying to get noticed as a choreographer. It's become such a big deal that last summer's 18th edition raised more than $874,000.
The revue usually is described as Broadway stars stripping, but Mitchell hones the definition. "Stripping is beautiful. It's fine and dandy. But it's not the business I'm in," he says. "I'm in the business of storytelling and sexuality and the art of the tease."
Mitchell's vision "had me at hello," says Monaco, even if she discovered not much of her rigid training as the first-season "Dancing with the Stars" champ translated to this new environment.
The first 80 minutes is "perfect for me!" she declares, her voice rising to a happy shout. "Bo is awkward, and so is Kelly. I really feel like Bo right now. I'm vicariously living through this woman."
It's that last 10 minutes, when she finally breaks into an erotic happy dance, that "will take me another 13 weeks."
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.