The 10 Best Burlesque Troupes And Venues In Chicago
By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 24, 2015 3:30PM
You almost can’t toss a glove in the air without hitting one of Chicago’s myriad talented and creative burlesque troupes. Burlesque—the term for a niche but popular type of dance performance that often combines physical comedy, popular culture and a sexy striptease in equal parts to get audiences laughing. It’s been described as stripping’s more intellectual cousin, but burlesque performers and fans will attest that the dance routines—imagine a Star Wars or Mario Bros. parody, for example—are about so much more than watching someone take their clothes off. Check out our picks for some of the best burlesque venues and troupes in Chicago and add your own favorites in the comments if we missed them.
Naughty Little Cabaret
Tucked away in the basement of Rush Street fixture Original Mother’s is the Naughty Little Cabaret, a raucous burlesque revue with a heftier dose of testosterone than most. Hosted and produced by effortless showman and crooner Rob Racine, the show has proven to be a go-to option for rowdy bachelorette parties looking to whoop and holler as a troupe of sinewy male-burlesque types (along with a contingent of “traditional” female burlesque acts) and female impersonators go through their paces. As with many such cabarets, the show features a smattering of acrobatic or variety acts, but the emphasis here is very much on the naughty. Peppered throughout the proceedings are party games, wicked banter and the occasional torch song, before another appearance from such hot show regulars as Bazuka Joe or Devon Aire. The perfect show for a girl’s night out (including girls who like girls) or if you just want to let your freak flag fly.
Saturdays at 8 p.m. at Original Mother’s, 26 W. Division St.
The Vertical Side Show
The brainchild of Chicago boylesque superstar Ray Gunn, the vertical side show is a burlesque and variety show with some considerable theatrical heft. Occasionally featuring the physically and verbally dexterous vaudevillian Sammy Tramp as master of ceremonies, this non-stop show highlights a plethora of acts that take full advantage of the capacious yet idiosyncratic space of Berlin nightclub. Sometimes a dancer will shimmy along the wall right next to you, another time they’ll pirouette perilously atop a plinth. The show mixes it up with burlesque and boylesque numbers, variety acts and some amazing duets: The two handers that Gunn performs with featured performer Anghell from Venezuela are fascinatingly acrobatic, sensual and mesmerizing. Add to that an array of hand balancers and contortionists, singers, not to mention the breathlessly energetic full-troupe group numbers and this is a show to ensures that everyone in attendance feels like part of the show.
Once a month at Berlin Nightclub, 954 W. Belmont Ave.
If you’re looking for a good old-fashioned, rough and ready bar-room burlesque show look no further than Original Tease. Situated in the unpretentious confines of the Lincoln Tap Room, the show consists of three sets between 9:30 p.m. and just after midnight, highlighting classic, retro, and neo-burlesque, as well as the occasional singer and/or female impersonator. Curated by burlesque performer (and part-time feather fan entrepreneur) Donna Touch, this is the kind of show that embraces the loose and louche nature of the venue, with reasonably-priced drinks on hand and an up-close-and personal vibe. That said, the talent on display is top notch with such leading lights of the Chicago burlesque scene as Stella Cheeks and Helena Handbasket regularly on hand to tease and delight.
Note: Original Tease also takes place at The Holiday Club. This review is for the Lincoln Tap edition. Every 2nd Friday of the month at Lincoln Tap Room: 3010 N. Lincoln Ave.
Unbridled at Untitled
The burlesque and cabaret extravaganza that is Unbridled probably comes closest to recreating the sophisticated supper club feel of an old Cary Grant movie. While the clientele at Untitled may not be clad in tuxedos, the top-shelf cocktails, wide open ambience and in-the-round seating arrangement serve to create the right environment for this kind of revue. The cabaret style show puts an emphasis on burlesque—show favorites include such top-flight ecdysiasts as Tila Von Twirl, Jeez Loueez and Eva La Feva—appearing alongside fire twirlers, grinder acts, and gymnasts. It’s a sprawling show too, consisting of three sets (comprised of three-to-five performances) spread throughout the entire night. DJs spin tunes between each set, giving you plenty of time to schmooze, mingle and get your own dance on. The show is produced and occasionally hosted by Angela Eve, who knows how to add a bit of charm to an already charming event.
Unbridled takes place every Thursday at Untitled, 111 W. Kinzie St.
Nestling below landmark Chicago restaurant The Green Door lies this newer establishment which occupies the space of a former speakeasy. The bar itself is a helluva discovery—and given that the entrance is a fake bookshelf, you feel like you’ve truly discovered it—with an absolutely mind-blowing assortment of cocktails both created by the in-house staff and culled from some of the finest mixologists in the country. As if this wasn’t enough of a draw, the bar recently pulled off the coup of drafting world-famous burlesque star Michelle L’amour to curate the venue’s entertainment (meaning the show will occasionally feature appearances not only from Ms. L’amour herself but also members of her Chicago Starlets coterie, such as local luminary Lady Ginger). The highly intimate locale features a modest yet extremely attractive stage, with performances of the “pop-up” variety: There are about three per night—running the gamut from traditional burlesque to belly dance, hoop manipulation and beyond—and each appears on stage with little to no fanfare, giving the whole experience an old-school, spontaneous feel. Line-ups are not announced in advance, so if you want to find out what’s going on, you’ll just have to show up.
The Drifter is at 676-8 N. Orleans St. Performances take place between 7 p.m. and 12 a.m., Wednesday through Saturday.
Like a Tom Waits song come to life, Burlesco offers up sizzling burlesque, roughneck music and a carnivalesque atmosphere all marinated in the sweet lingering smell of BBQ. Set in the noted Pilsen rib joint Honky Tonk, most Burlesco shows are kicked off by the blade-twirling daredevil antics of world-renowned juggler Mark “The Knife” Faje. He then brings up the down and dirty rock blues of Grit & The Double Knit, an estimable quintet fronted by singer/guitarist Mark Gandurski (and frequently joined by guest musicians). It is this outfit that provides live accompaniment to the ensuing improvised burlesque show, curated by performer Ray Ray Sunshine and featuring such Chicago faves as Po’Chop and Dahlia Fatale—all creating in-the-moment performances for the packed-in crowd. This is the show to go to if you like your music live, your kicks dangerous and your glove-peels truly off the cuff.
Every Fourth Saturday a Honky Tonk BBQ, 1800 S. Racine Ave. 10 p.m.
If you’d like a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously (their website actually uses the word “parody” a few times), you’ll love catching a late night spectacle at Gorilla Tango. The raddest thing about Gorilla Tango Theatre—aside from its name—is that the shows are based on pop culture. Not only can you enjoy some titillating dancing and strip tease, but you’ll also get to see a remake of your favorite movie classics and pop culture persuasions. Sexy Star Wars, anyone? Or maybe Dirty Disney is more your thing? And then there’s “Holy Boobies, Batman!” (Yes, that’s the actual title of the show!) Game of Thrones super-fans might be interested in a sexier, undeniably less violent version of the show: Game of Thongs. The shows - in a cozy 80-seat Bucktown theater - are so flirty, funny and fun that you won’t even mind that the bar is super basic. The performers are incredibly energetic and funny in a way that reaches the razor’s edge of cheesy, but they pull back just in time, thrusting you into their geeky world of “oddly sexy aliens” and partial nudity during “A Nude Hope: A Star Wars Burlesque.” ,a href="http://chicagoist.com/2011/08/15/the_burlesque_scene_in_chicago.php">We actually reviewed this show a whopping four years ago, and if it’s been running this long, it’s got to be good! And Batman purists will love how that show stays pretty true to the series.
Every Friday and Saturday at 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave. Starting at 9 p.m.
Lakeview’s hottest burlesque and one of the most creative shows in the city takes over Stage 773 every Saturday at 10:30 p.m. with a fresh headliner each show with its kitschy, sexy, amusement park (seriously!) swagger. The space is intimate and old-fashioned—lit by candles and boasting comfortable couches—and the performers are on point. The cast offers up myriad talents aside from the classic bump and grind and strip tease. Want excellent jokes, singing, and pole dancing, too? Check, check and check. Depending on the weekend you can see one of two shows from founder, executive producer, performer and studio teacher Red Hot Annie. She’s internationally recognized and also the founder of Windy City Burlesque Fest, so you know you’re in for a steamy treat at Vaudezilla! Aside from Red Hot Annie, try to catch a show with Gin Fizz, whose specialities are pasty making, twirling and classic bump and grind, or Titty Perkins—a professionally trained theatrical designer whose costumes and ballet dancing are on point, adding a bit of breathlessness to the whole thing. CarniVaude is a blast with the added treat of an aerial silks performance from Red Hot Annie, and After Dark teases and pleases with fabulous costumes, delicious dancing and a touch of magic to boot.
Every Saturday at Stage 773 1225 W. Belmont Ave. 10:30 p.m.
Kiss Kiss Cabaret
Though this late-night show isn’t as elaborate as some others, the performers and producer have perfectly married saucy, sexy and, well, shtick, for your viewing pleasure. You’ll have your fill of erotic strip-tease (and then some) but guests are also treated to beautiful modern dance, eclectic comedians, dazzling costumes and even a juggler. The emcees keep the night rolling along nicely with on-point pacing—not crawling but not jumpy, either, so there’s just the right amount of time to savor each act. Each of the performers, who as a whole comprise the Kiss Kiss Coquettes, is elegant and wonderful in her/his own way. Don’t miss the delicious Miss Demeaner, dazzling Minnie Minx and legendary Gaea Lady.
Every Friday and Saturday at Uptown Underground, 4707 N. Broadway St. #309 10 p.m.
Belmont Burlesque Revue
Cheap tickets plus these four letters make this place killer: B-Y-O-B. This modern take on classic burlesque is pretty bare bones. It’s held in the Wit Theatre, which is set up for improv, but the stripped down nature of the setting makes it that much easier to tune into the girls and guys of burlesque. Cast includes fan favorites Amazing (and nerdy) Tomas, Paris Green and Kitten Kaboodle. Belmont Burlesque was founded in 2003 and is witty, sexy and refreshing, not to mention hilarious. You can expect to see some interesting and unique shows here, though you’ll likely never-again see the one-time show of a woman covered in balloons that involved balloon popping, twerking and plenty of cake.
Every Saturday at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont 10:45 p.m.
Contributions by Adam Burke and Margaret Paulson