They thrill and trill, dressed to kill

You can call them retro chicks, femme fatales or the kind of dames that Philip Marlowe would say are “worth a stare.”

By any name, two burlesque babes and a torch singer are taking Las Vegas back to vintage style, their different ages united by ’40s flair and the feeling that they were, as Claire Sinclair put it a few months back, “born in the wrong era.”

The 21-year-old Sinclair is in rehearsals for “Pin Up,” a salute to the cheesecake aesthetic set to open Feb. 25 at the Stratosphere.

On a parallel track, “Absinthe” singer Melody Sweets was to ring in this day with a midnight show in the “Absinthe” tent showing off both her body and her voice for the original tunes on her new album, “Burlesque in the Black.”

Sweets has become part of a small but well-organized burlesque revival scene, one that comes to the foreground here with the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend.

“The only reason why I’m here right now is this whole world,” Sweets says.

“Burlesque kind of came to me” about five years ago, when she was singing in a rock band called Goodfinger. “My friend was having a burlesque Halloween party. I wrote a song (“Slice of Heaven”) I could take my clothes off to” and one thing led to another.

“I just kept getting booked and paid per song. You couldn’t do that with a full rock and roll band and have everyone get paid properly. Melody Sweets just kept getting the bills paid.”

But she fell “very easily” into the neo-burlesque culture.

“I think it’s a very powerful thing for many women to know that it’s OK to be sexual beings and still be looked on with respect and hold yourself with respect,” she says.

“The whole burlesque community has taught me something very valuable. In this world we’re taught that other women are competition for each other. … In this community it was an eye-opener for me. These women were doing this because they loved it and they were helping each other do it. Because it was fun, it was uplifting, it felt powerful.”

Original songs fueled the need for dance material. “Above all I want to sing,” Sweets says. “Yes, I’m doing burlesque and I love it. But when I’m older and my body has gone all National Geographic on me, I’m gonna keep my clothes on and keep singing and hope the burlesque community still accepts that.”

Sweets’ new album has a retro thread running through it, but she wanted to maintain a modern sound and not be a pure retro throwback.

Laura Shaffer already keeps her look low-cut but fully clothed, and has no qualms about full-on throwback. Two years ago, the singer adopted the “Noir Nightingale” persona, with multiple outlets including Chandler Judkins’ New Testament Jazz Orchestra, Bootlegger Bistro weekends with her father – veteran pianist Charlie Shaffer – and a Julie London tribute album.

“My look has always leaned toward the classic and the vintage,” she says. “Even when I was doing Top 40 songs 10 years ago in lounges, people would say I looked like Jessica Rabbit.”

Shaffer didn’t know exactly what would happen when she turned her lifelong love of vintage fashion and classic movies into a full-blown persona.

“It’s been a delightful surprise,” she says.

The burlesque scene is smaller and more specific than Shaffer’s more scattered following, which ranges from old-Vegas enthusiasts to jazz purists.

“It’s always easier to sell sex,” Shaffer says. “But I think what people really enjoy about it – and this goes across the board from burlesque to Rat Pack stuff – anything vintage-inspired, there’s a factor of glamour that doesn’t seem to be there today. … There’s a romance for things gone by.”

“Obviously the old Vegas is in my blood,” Shaffer says, “but I’m not like, ‘Save Vegas.’ ”

Still, these are women whom men turn their heads to follow, perhaps to a revival of old-Vegas style.

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

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