Subscribe to my full feed.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Leadville or Bust

leaderville or bustGreat garters! It's " 'The Taffetas' — Gone Wild."

Reyna Von Vett, who starred in that recent squeaky-clean 1950s musical at the Denver Center's Galleria Theatre, is now raising Denver's fallen women of yore (and temperatures) with her new burlesque musical revue, "Leadville or Bust."

And she's doing it alongside three of her former "Taffetas" castmates, Elizabeth Welch, Melinda Smart and Michelle Sergeeff.

Only the chiffon of the '50s has given way to the cleavage of the aughts.

"Leadville or Bust" — the double- entendre is intended — will be a bit naughty and bawdy, Von Vett promises, but not in the way some might expect of burlesque. "This is more tease than striptease," she said. "It's an awful lot of suggestion."

"Leadville" recalls Denver's famously seedy, turn-of-the-century red-light district, but there's no epic story here; no history lesson; no gritty "Deadwood"-style realism exploiting the reported fact that every third man over 25 in Denver then had constitutional syphilis.

No, Von Vett's purpose is to simply present authentic songs from the period, offering a true look at how a burlesque amusement might have been performed for miners and settlers. She calls it "a burlesque operetta," or "burletta."

Von Vett consulted with local historian Tom Noel because she wanted to be historically accurate. Just how far did these girlie shows go, she asked?

Noel told her, "Nobody really knows, because your grandfather didn't exactly save that kind of literature," she said. "But as bad as you can possibly think? He guarantees that it was worse."

This one's not. "I kept it on the decent side of indecent," she said. It's all singing and dancing. It's not only appropriate for the family, she said, "It's appropriate for Denver Center subscribers."

"Leadville or Bust" started when Von Vett happened upon a neighbor's collection of vintage sheet music from the era, which celebrated area composer Wendell Vaughn has compiled and harmonized into a score that would make Mae West proud.

The opening two numbers are songs written for the 1908 Democratic National Convention in Denver, "Seeing Denver" and "Denvertown."

The former invites visitors to, "Jump on a car and say, ah, there you are, and take in the sights with me," before listing tourist sites of 1908 Denver such as the Brown Palace.

Of further historical significance is the number, "You Naughty, Naughty Men," a song performed by America's first burlesque company in 1870.

There are standards such as "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "Ragtime Cowboy Joe." But the real fun comes from titles with, oh, those suggestive parentheticals: "Press My Button (Ring My Bell)" (Von Vett: "It's all about a doorbell — unless you know better!") . . . "Hot Nuts (Get 'Em From the Peanut Man)" (Von Vett: "It's all about peanuts!") . . . "Sam, the Hot Dog Man" (Von Vett: "It's all about Sam . . . the hot-dog man!").

From a business point of view, Von Vett emulates those self-starting brothel madams, those soiled doves, those "brides of the multitudes," those "daughters of joy."

She not only is the writer and star of "Leadville or Bust," but also producer and marketer. The Heritage High grad played Tanya in the Vegas company of "Mamma Mia!" for three years but has found living and working as a professional actor in Denver comes with its own challenges. So she gave herself a job.

Hers might make for a better story if she were more like one those "Hell's Belles" she plays on stage. When asked what brought her back to Colorado, she says flatly, "I got knocked up" — but alas, she's also happily married 12 years, ruinous as that is to the image she's now trying to convey.

"We moved back here because we really wanted to raise our son in Colorado and not in Vegas," she said. "But we've moved back here five times before and had to leave each time to find work.

"That's the reason I am so passionate about this show. I really want it to be the reason I don't have to leave Colorado again to do what I love to do.

"I don't want to have to leave again, but I don't want to have to quit singing."
By John Moore

No comments: