The ‘nerdy’ side of burlesque

Sashaying across the stage is a sultry, dark-haired woman, wearing a black latex bodysuit. 

Resembling a modern-day pinup girl, she winks seductively at the audience, responding with an innocent “bless you” to anyone who approaches her.

Moments later, a red curtain opens to reveal Cherry Pitz, a petite, pink-haired lady wearing a garter belt, a corset and thigh-high stockings, who introduces herself as the childhood friend of Carrie White, the main character in Stephen King’s 1974 novel, “Carrie.”

And so it goes as WAG had its first encounter with “nerdlesque.” This growing subculture of burlesque captures the geekier side of striptease. Still sexy, still witty and still all in good fun, nerdlesque is often compared with the likes of fan fiction, in which online writers bring together historical figures, literary, movie and TV characters or celebrities in new, often romantic or erotic ways. (“Fifty Shades of Grey” began as fan fiction spun off of the “Twilight” series.) In nerdlesque,  performers impersonate characters from books, movies or video games in provocative, playful ways that preserve the edginess of traditional burlesque.

Rosie Cheeks as Wendy Torrance in “The Shining.” Courtesy Hotsy Totsy Burlesque.

With Valentine’s Day on its way, we thought, What better way to get our (creative) juices flowing than with an evening of curvaceous bodies, hokey jokes and Stephen King? In tribute to the master of horror, Hotsy Totsy Burlesque unveiled a most seductive show at The Slipper Room in Manhattan that abounded with King-ian references and macabre motifs — for the nerd with a wild side.

“We’ve fallen. We can’t get up. We like it that way,” says Cyndi Freeman, the founder of Hotsy Totsy Burlesque who plays Cherry Pitz, as she humorously opens the show.

Freeman and co-producer Joe the Shark (Joseph Naftali) are no novices to the form. The “home for wayward girls and fallen women,” as Freeman refers to the company, has produced shows that riff on the “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter“ series, HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” FX’s “American Horror Story,” and, recently, BBC’s “Doctor Who.”

It’s all done with a ton ’tude as the performers’ bodies don’t resemble stick-thin runway models or fitness athletes, but regular people, who are comfortable in their own skin. They range from thin to curvaceous, petite to tall, with slim waists and/or broad hips, though they all share a distinct sense of sexuality that is both admirable and enticing. 

On this particular evening, Freeman guides the audience through her “reunion” with Carrie, who is visiting Cherry’s hometown of Nowheresville. Cherry explains that the two had lost touch after Carrie “miraculously” survived the devastating prom night fire. During Carrie’s first trip to New York, Cherry can’t seem to figure out why tragedy follows her beloved friend like a dark cloud. Or why every time Carrie is angry — which is conveyed through blazing eyes and eerie background music — those around her become physically distressed.

The curtain closes, a nun-turned dominatrix appears and subsequent scenes reference other works by King. As a testament to “Misery,” a woman aggressively reads while conducting a striptease, alluding to the 1987 novel of a fan (played by Oscar winner Kathy Bates in the movie) who rescues her favorite author from an accident, only to hold him captive. Following is an ode to “Something to Tide You Over,” a segment of the 1982 film, “Creep Show.” The scene introduces a male performer who tries to escape the grips of a ghastly sea monster, eventually succumbing to his advances – but not until he asks permission first. The most disturbing scene recalls “It,” where a lively performer hops around the stage with bulging eyes and an overactive tongue, dressed in a clown costume – where she hides (fake) insects and body parts. Of course, no Stephen King tribute would be complete without “The Shining,” during which a woman – who wears a purposely perplexed expression – impersonates main character Wendy Torrance (played in the movie by Shelley Duvall), who is persuaded to strip by her son’s imaginary friend, Tony. Appropriately written on her bum in sparkly red glitter is “Redrum” – “murder” spelled backward. Cherry then steps in, dedicating her performance to Carrie’s late cat, ending with a scene inspired by the ’83 novel “Pet Sematary.”

In addition to the fascinating performance, the show involved the audience in a raffle to win Stephen King memorabilia. An artist sketched the onstage activity, allowing guests to treasure their nerdlesque experience for just $20, while the alluring ambiance of The Slipper Room — with its crimson-colored walls, soft lighting and a vintage feel — turned the evening into an erotic valentine.   

For more about Hotsy Totsy Burlesque, visit hotsytotsyburlesque.com. For more about The Slipper Room, 167 Orchard St. in Manhattan, visit slipperroom.com or call 212-253-7246.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *