New-age burlesque strips away X-rated sleaziness

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Gentlemen’s clubs where the strippers leave nothing to the imagination?

Admit it, guys, you’re a little furtive on entering one, even ashamed — and well you should be: They’re so yesterday.

It’s not so much that they’re sleazy, it’s more that they’re cheesy — the Dockers of adult entertainment.

Skin is out. Burlesque is back. It’s not about the sleaze. It’s about the tease.

Today’s scene makers drop into New York City’s Slipper Room or San Francisco’s Tease-O-Rama, where a Jean Harlow look-alike (with Jayne Mansfield measurements) named **BOB** does a coy striptease act that evokes a more modest postwar America of the 1940s and ‘50s, when Gypsy Rose Lee, Blaze Starr and Tempest Storm still sashayed across the burlesque stage.

In small clubs and cabarets nationwide — including the 9:30 Club, which plays host to the nationally touring “Burlesquefest” tonight — what is being heralded as neo-burlesque is plucking the G-strings of hip folk.

A cross between vintage bump-and-grind beats, kitschy lounge acts and the sight of naturally buxom (or not) women who sing, dance and tell jokes (but would never do anything as vulgar as flash a thong), neo-burlesque is what producer Lyn MacNeil calls “the art of enticement.” In other words, it’s mostly PG-13 — but should there be the occasional flash of something R-rated, just look down at your feet, guys, and try to name all the U.S. presidents in reverse order.

Yes, burlesque is back in all its feathered and fringed glory — jugglers, magicians, novelty acts, baggy-pants comedians and all. Not to mention the new burlesque queens — Catherine D’Lish, who does a faithful re-creation of Sally Rand’s famous fan dance; Evangeline the Oyster Girl, who performs a sultry homage to the aphrodisiac bivalve before withdrawing back inside an enormous oyster shell; the ivories-tickling Kitten on the Keys; and perhaps the reigning queens of the genre, the Pontiani Sisters, who don hot pants and high boots to dance to the theme from “The Godfather.”

No, these are not your mother’s strippers.

They are your grandmother’s strippers — naughty but nice.

These are strippers even Rudolph W. Giuliani could love.

“The new burlesque and vaudeville is an innocent flirtation,” says Cherry Red Productions’ Lucas Zarwell, who co-produced a sellout neo-vaudeville showcase at Washington’s Source Theatre last month that turned away more than 40 people despite its 1 a.m. curtain time.

“The tease is better because it is lighter and more fun,” Mr. Zarwell says. “This kind of work takes a very special person — someone who honestly and innocently teases and seduces the audience. There is no comparison to those strip clubs where the women look like Pamela Anderson or one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. This so much better — and both sexes can enjoy it.”

Cherry Red’s neo-vaudeville night featured balloon swallower and contortionist Trey Cromwell, a cross-dressing burlesque act (with drag kings instead of queens) and a woman who performed a Spin-the-Wheel-of-Death act. Encouraged by the success, Cherry Red plans more showcases. “Burlesque and vaudeville are popular during troubled times,” Mr. Zarwell says. “People want a cheap thrill in a bad economy.”

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