The captivating world of burlesque is about to get another spotlight in mainstream media. Entertainment Weekly recently broke the news that Christina Aguilera, one of the stars of the 2010 movie "Burlesque", will executive produce the film's stage adaptation to debut in the United Kingdom. The upcoming show, christened "Burlesque: The Musical", boasts a script by the film's director Steven Antin and will feature iconic songs penned by luminaries such as Aguilera herself, Diane Warren, and Sia. Notably, the musical has been enriched with new tunes from the creative minds of Todrick Hall, renowned for his choreography on "RuPaul's Drag Race", and Jess Foley.
Burlesque as an art form is relatively niche, and the cult classic movie tends to be a lot of people's only exposure to it. Unsurprisingly, much of the general public will still attend a show expecting or anticipating something similar to what they've seen on the screen. So, with the news of this upcoming stage adaptation, many seasoned performers are probably already groaning, resigning to the fact that with an increased interest in the art, there will undoubtedly be an increased frequency of the need to clarify...
"No, it's not like the m̶o̶v̶i̶e̶ musical."
The movie itself acts as a lightning rod for diverse reactions within the performance community. To many, the film is regarded as a cult classic, full of glamour, sequins, and powerhouse vocals, especially with heavyweights like Christina Aguilera and Cher at the forefront. Their performances are undeniably captivating, infusing the film with passion and a kind of dynamism that entrains audiences. However, while the lead performances shine, most performers I know tend to agree that the plot and setting of "Burlesque" arguably don't do justice to the depth and nuances of the art form it seeks to represent. There's a distinct gap between the glossy Hollywood rendition of burlesque and its rich, authentic history rooted in satire, comedy, and risqué performances.
The impact of the movie in the mainstream also puts performers and audiences in uncomfortable situations from time to time. From disconnects between bookers and the acts they are procuring to people wishing to learn burlesque with only the movie as their reference. I personally have had multiple messages from parents asking if they can bring their children to my shows because they "Love the movie and know all the songs." And I always have to very politely inform them that I don't sing and that perhaps waving around an extra large rhinestoned dildo during my Big Domme Energy act might not be appropriate for all ages.
It's hard to know exactly what "Burlesque: The Musical" will mean for the rest of the industry.
The musical's addition of new songs and creative talents may hint at the possibility of more diverse interpretations, leading to a more inclusive representation of the art. The format of a stage show may allow for less restrictiveness when incorporating some of the more risque and provocative elements of burlesque. We might see a broadened audience and demand for burlesque as an art form, exposing existing performers and shows to even more fans, potentially benefiting performers financially.
Or, this influx of mainstream attention could risk commercialising and diluting the essence of burlesque in a bid to cater to a broader audience. This expansion may increase the burden for established performers and instructors to maintain the authenticity and depth of the art form. But there's also the chance for seasoned artists to amplify educational efforts, sharing the rich history and traditions of burlesque with eager learners.
I personally have run burlesque workshops all across Australia and overseas and have taught thousands of students. Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost 25% of attendees in my Beginner Burlesque workshop credit the movie "Burlesque" as their only exposure to the art form. So it's exciting to get to share some history with them, introducing them to some of my inspirations, such as Dita Von Teese, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Josephine Baker.
It's evident that "Burlesque: The Musical" holds a myriad of possibilities, both promising and challenging. But I am excited to see what the future holds. And as the curtains rise and the spotlight beams, what truly matters is the collective growth and understanding of this intricate art form. We can continue to have space for performers and audiences alike to converse, discuss, and deepen their understanding of the multifaceted world of burlesque.
How do you foresee this new musical impacting the world of burlesque?
I'd love for you to E-X-P-R-E-S-S your thoughts.