Capital Fringe Review: ‘Burlesque and Belly Laughs’ by Jessica Vaughan

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Burlesque and Belly Laughs provides plenty of both. With a cast of improv actors and burlesque dancers from troupes around DC, the evening alternates between improv sketches and more traditional burlesque routines. The madness is run by the show’s creator Justin Purvis and if you’re unimpressed with anything I say, just know it may be an entirely different performance the night you go since the performers will change with each one, which is a good excuse to go again!
Tonight’s talented performers were Cherrie Sweetbottom, Flora Bush, Polly Amorous and improv by Joe Uchno, Justus Hammond, Kate Symes. Kevin Gauthier, Matt Berman, Mikael Johnson, Sarah Donnelly, Sean Ellis, Shawn Westfall, and Ben Willman.
Why the combination? As one improv actor said, both are about taking risks. (This was moments before a gal in the audience shouted at him to take his clothes off too. It was that kind of night).  He didn’t, but he did create a whole scene riffing on that theme. The way they organize the improv is to have 2-3 actors on stage start a scene – either from an audience member’s story or a single shouted line or something else. Then other actors, standing in back, tap them out and change the scene. Often it is a simple jump in time, for instance from a scene with someone in pain to the doctor’s office and his suspect diagnoses, but sometimes the connection is less obvious until a hilarious final line. The humor comes as the scenes unexpectedly weave together and a coal miner at a strip club pops up 10 minutes later at someone else’s family dinner.
I was amazed to discover that the actors aren’t a regular troupe because they worked well together, but my favorite moments came when one would try to throw another a little off his game, just to see what happened  For instance, a seduction scene went awry when he tried to put on music and his backstage colleagues kept singing a different tune until he was beating up an imaginary record player. Not every sketch was quite so tame.
The burlesque was also played for laughs. Be warned that nothing is sacred and very little is left to the imagination. If you have not heard of burlesque, it is a mashup of music and comedy and women taking off most of their clothes. (There is just no euphemism I could find for that part).  It’s actually been around for a couple centuries in this form and it’s really more of a performance art, particularly at this show. The audience was a testament to that – split almost equally between guys and gals and all generations, though not the youngest, obviously. If you’ve never seen it, do not worry, the show begins with a quick Burlesque 101. The production got away from them at points, like when the MC had to riff on and on to cover a hitch backstage, when the entire improv group went missing for a minute, or when a couple of wardrobe’s malfunctioned, but in the end, as all good improv actors do, they took the opportunity for some more jokes.
The show delivers: burlesque and plenty of laughs.
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For more information and to purchase tickets, please go to their Capital Fringe show page.

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