‘Burlesque — The Show’ and ‘Fantasy’

Call it "topless," "burlesque," "cabaret," "adult" (which always sounded wrong for such a juvenile thing) or my own favorite, "girlie show."

The distinctions have been lost in this durable subgenre of Las Vegas entertainment. And that bothers Brandy Lee.

The veteran Las Vegas show dancer and magician’s assistant figures she wouldn’t be around if not for the real burlesque. Her grandfather was a burlesque producer, her grandmother a dancer. Her mother toured with dancer-turned-presenter Ann Corio.

So "Burlesque –The Show" is a matter of family pride, as well as an attempt to wiggle into a crowded niche by getting a tassel back on the Strip before Cher’s "Burlesque" movie opens Nov. 24.

Lacking the budget to compete with "Fantasy" or "Peepshow" on a production scale, the little Westin Casuarina show opts for a return to classic form. Along with the expected striptease, the five dancers and "top banana" Bruce "Big John" Mickelson re-create the cornball skits once synonymous with the genre.

You could say this is also what Sean Cooper is doing in "Fantasy" when he dresses up like Tina Turner or imitates Sammy Davis Jr. before shedding the toupee to reveal his shaved head. "Fantasy" doesn’t call itself burlesque, but the two shows give you the straight-line evolution of a genre that’s been on the Strip since the early 1950s.

"Burlesque" probably gets close to what it was like to watch Tempest Storm or Lili St. Cyr at the old El Rancho Vegas or Silver Slipper. Those rooms didn’t have to overcome a corporate-meeting atmosphere where it seems like someone will talk about insurance. But the modest stage, limited lighting and little cabaret tables with candles are surely accurate in their low-tech intimacy.

The retro concept doesn’t lock into place until the delayed arrival of Mickelson, whose mugging is a perfect fit as he dusts off some classic banter with designated "funny girl" Laurie Huff. They are self-aware and know not to treat this stuff with any reverence. Mickelson smooths the path for the younger folks and stray conventioneers who expected more raunch: "Sorry, bro, this is old-school (stuff)." Or, "Spit take! It’s a classic."

The ability to speak also gives the quintet of women personality. Lee and co-producer/choreographer Kendra Alyse mix in contemporary numbers, but their hearts are clearly in the past. Jennifer Ferreira does a spectacular dance on a big "shoe sofa" to the obscure "I Refuse to Rock and Roll" by Julie Wilson. The collected cast just says no to "Save a Horse, Ride A Cowboy" and instead humps their saddle horses to down ‘n’ dirty saxophone.

The modern stuff is more generic. A couple of tunes shared with the rival "X Burlesque" seem like a lift, even though songs such as Touch & Go’s "Would You …?" are technically available for anyone with iTunes.

Still, if the Westin serves as a calling card to show what the gals could do with a real budget, save me a place in line.

Horn dogs should note the emphasis is on the "tease" here, with modest blocking keeping the breast count down to a few glimpses. To see nipples in full computerized stage light, gents should stick to "Fantasy."

With 11 years of dependability, "Fantasy" is the front-runner in the local skin game. It has an admirable knack for throwing itself parties to bring the media back in (Twist my arm a little harder!), the latest precipitated by the departure of semicelebrity Angelica Bridges after eight months.

The new star is Lorena Peril, who was the most memorable thing about the departed "Sin City Bad Girls." The former Christina Aguilera impersonator and potential Ab Glider poster girl is a rowdy host who tilts the production toward loud pop with a Latin flair; even the topless numbers she’s not part of seemed a little less hot and bothered, a little more like music videos.

Peril’s powerhouse belting of James Brown’s "It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World" impressed other media nighters more than me. But that’s less a statement on Peril than where you stand with the whole show-boaty, gospel-derived Mariah Carey school of ignoring a lyric.

The secret of "Fantasy" versus the competition was summed up by Peril and Cooper having a blast with Shakira’s "Hips Don’t Lie." Sex sells "Fantasy," but personality delivers it. And maybe personality is the modern distinction that separates "burlesque" from the strip clubs.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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