Joan Jett poses on the Delorean that will take her... Back to the 80s.
Review by John Lombard
I have never seen anyone happier when taking their clothes off than Tiffany Blue. Tiffany obviously loves her audience and when coaxed into taking off her bra by the hoots and cheers of the crowd gives a big smile that says: “This is fun for you, but it’s more fun for me."
It is Friday night and I am seeing Sass & Tease’s burlesque show “Back to the 80s” at Vivaldi’s restaurant. Tiffany is the third act, performing to “Heaven is a Place on Earth.” If that, the title, and the fact that MC Jacob Harlem is dressed as Marty McFly doesn’t give you a hint that these acts are all set to 80s music, nothing will.
For some people the 80s might be about Bob Hawke or Reagonomics or even Australia’s victory in the America’s Cup, but for me it was mainly about… the Ninja Turtles. I was a kid. And apparently Jacob Harlem was too. At the opening of the show when demonstrating standard burlesque procedure he unzipped his jacket to reveal a Ninja Turtles shirt. A second mention of the Ninja Turtles later in the show got my hopes up that this meant a performer would literally come out of her shell, but there was no third mention, and following Beetlejuice rules it was not to be.
Of course, since my main association with the 80s is the cartoons I saw on television, I came into the night feeling cocky about my relative age. But this was not to be because Jacob Harlem took a quick poll of the audience and established that many audience members were not even born in the 80s. Worse, neither were some of the performers. Now that really did make me feel old.
One of the themes of the night was that the 80s is big and bold and silly and fun - but also sincere. Painfully, awkwardly sincere, the sincerity of first love and bad fashion choices made when you were fourteen. 80s love songs are ridiculously, bombastically earnest, and somehow that makes them a perfect fit for burlesque. Many of the acts were clearly very personal and important to the performers and very well-rehearsed (this is the second time Sass & Tease has performed an 80s show). I recognised some of the acts as part of the standard oeuvre of the performers but that did not make them any less entertaining, and for regulars they must have felt like old favourites.
The opening performance was Virginia Fizz in Goblin (Drag) King mode as David Bowie for “Magic Dance” from Labyrinth (it wasn’t the Ninja Turtles but it was a start). Fizz danced around the restaurant in an uncanny recreation of Bowie that, honestly, I thought was a bit sexier than the original. Cameo appearances of 80s rock stars continued with Ursula Wolfe recreating Joan Jett in a ferocious strip that unfortunately too often dipped below the sightlines of the venue. This was followed by Tiffany’s act and then a special guest, rapper MC KREWD. MC KREWD, decked out in a wedding dress, began to strip while attempting to snort cocaine (appropriately enough, white wedding was playing). So far, so 80s. She then produced a decapitated fish head and began to make out with it to a mix of delight and horror from the audience. I can confidently say that nobody was prepared for that to happen at an 80s show.
Fortunately we then went to interval (necessary to process what we had just seen) and the delightful news that there was an actual Delorean parked out the front ready for photos. Poses and re-enactments of the Back to the Future posters began in earnest, with Jacob Harlem chivalrously offering his Marty McFly jacket to women in need.
After the interval we saw Captain Spitfire, the only “boylesque” performer of the night. Spitfire’s character was a Chaplinesque heartbroken stripper with no energy left for taking his clothes off. Initially, for me it felt lazy rather than comically lazy, especially because it followed a chain of kinetic and highly polished acts, but it was a hit with the audience and warmed up as Spitfire fed off their energy. I also had to dodge a flying shirt, an important skill all burlesque audience members need to develop. This was followed by Virginia Fizz’s second number, a creative and intense take on the idea of a poisoned apple. Unfortunately like Ursula Wolfe’s act it was hurt because the performer kept ducking out of sight. This was a common problem with the acts and unfortunately it especially damaged Abel Fox’s performance. Abel Fox is a phenomenal, unforgettable burlesque performer but her act was a poor choice for the venue and forced people sitting behind the front row to crane forward to see her.
The final act of the night was for me its great surprise, special guest Jazida. Jazida won this year’s Burlesque Idol Canberra and holy heck is she good at this. Jazida performed an 80s medley that nearly stole the show even if it lacked the powerful climax of the other acts. Jacob Harlem then brought everything together by performing a monologue from The Breakfast Club, the perfect hit of 80s nostalgia to end the night.
If it isn’t clear yet, this was a very fun show. Between Back to the Future and The Breakfast Club they knew how to push my nostalgia buttons, and as much as we make fun of those drum machines they do make you want to dance, especially when fortified by libations from Vivaldi’s well-stocked bar. Much like the 80s itself, Sass & Tease has a passionate sincerity that gives it a distinctive, slightly nerdy identity. This was everything you could want from a night of burlesque.