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Monday, August 25, 2008

Show Review: X Burlesque

x burlesqueYou'd think a burlesque show would be the safest bet on the Las Vegas Strip.

But even with a head start -- four years of operating in different places with various titles -- "X Burlesque" has found it's not easy being the fifth or sixth of anything. Not even when you're selling bare bodies, one of the city's most valued commodities.

When the revue moved into the Flamingo Las Vegas early last year, it had to fight for attention. "Crazy Girls" has longevity. "Bite" has a gimmick (vampire babes!). "Crazy Horse Paris" has European prestige. "Fantasy" has live singing and (gasp!) a dude or two to enhance the couples appeal.

Perhaps understandably, "X Burlesque" seemed as though it was working too hard to be hip and edgy. But producers Angela and Matt Stabile kept tinkering and reworking their revue as it turned the corner on its first year in February.

The Flamingo got behind the show with a two-year extension and promotional branding in the outlying casino area. "X" is now the one topless revue you can see seriously late at night: midnight, three times per week. And it's no longer the newest kid on the block, thanks to "Ooh La La" at nearby Paris Las Vegas (which seized the title "X" once had for best sense of humor).

"X" still doesn't have that easy way of explaining where it fits. But that's a challenge for the marketing folks, not one that burdens audiences once they're in the room. Angela Stabile may sum it up best when she says the goal is to be "super sexy but also really fun at the same time."

I don't know if "credible" is too serious a word for a topless show, but it's easier to praise "X" for what it's not: seedy, derivative or overly silly.

The changes all have been for the better. A burlesque-looking curtain now covers the stage's roommate set for The Second City comedy troupe, but still creates a screen for video projections. New choreography is by Enrique Lugo, who did some audacious work for the departed "Fashionistas," and here keeps the seven women moving with rock 'n' roll athleticism that doesn't sacrifice the provocative for artsy indulgence (the same cannot always be said of the projected graphics).

And it's awkward to say it, but new comedian Nancy Ryan fits the show better than the late, great Pudgy. The comedian born Beverly Wines, who died in December, did more of an act than conventional stand-up. She gave "X" a retro-camp flair which justified the "Burlesque" in the title, but was out of place with the rest.

Ryan is a better blend with the rest of the show's contemporary thrust, while doing the same job of evening the score for the women attending with their menfolk. She's good at crowd banter, heckling a father-son team with New Jersey sass and telling the son, "Your house is blocking the driveway. You better move it" when he bolts for a restroom retreat.

The things that haven't changed are most of what made the original "X" stand out when it debuted at the Aladdin in 2002. The women keep their own hairstyles and individuality, and each is featured in a solo number. The music is fresh, and most pieces don't bother you with the entire song. A girls 'n' guns tribute to the military without corny music? It boggles the mind.

A couple of numbers now qualify as classics: a bathtub seduction paced by stage blackouts and a piece where you see only three pairs of legs and not the rest of their owners.

"X Burlesque" doesn't reinvent the wheel, or even the girlie show. But for a show without a gimmick, it's doing just fine.
By Mike Weatherford

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