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Belmont Burlesque comes with wink, smile

If you think of Lucky Horseshoe when you hear “stripping” and “Belmont and Halsted,” you’re probably not alone. But a striptease of a completely different variety has been making an impact on the neighborhood for nearly nine years by combining glitter, glitz, glam and, of course, a wink and smile.

Belmont Burlesque was one of Chicago’s first burlesque troupes when it started its monthly revue at Boystown’s Playground Theater in September 2002.

“We didn’t want it to just be a strip show,” said Paris Green, the show’s producer and director. “We wanted it to be a traditional burlesque show which involves singers, comedians and novelty acts.”

The three founding burlesque bombshells, which includes Green, has remained intact along with the show’s emcee, Jack Midnight. The 60 to 75 minute revue combines four or five stripteases with comedy and magic. The bombshells are doused in sequins, feathers and even sometimes armed with a confetti gun as they engage the audience in the art of the tease.

“Yeah, we’re strippers, we take our clothes off, but the difference is that burlesque is all about the art of the tease and the journey we’re taking to get to the final reveal,” Green said. “The difference between burlesque and what you might see in a gentlemen’s club is that we want the audience in on the joke.”

With the theater’s intimate 65-seat capacity, Green said the audience becomes part of the show.

“One of the reasons we love it so much is because the front row is basically on stage with you,” she said. “You get to do fun things with the audience.”

The revue’s magician Tomas Medina recalled a show-stopping audience reaction to a trick where he puts mints into his eyes and nose and later regurgitates them.

“Apparently some dude, who was on his first date, wasn’t too keen on gross-out stunts and passed out,” said Medina. “We stopped the show. The paramedics came and hauled him off. He was OK, and I hear they eventually became a couple.”

The show has done more than bring couples together. According to Mark Henderson—that’s Jack Midnight, on stage—the revue brought “boylesque” to Boystown.

Although Belmont Burlesque had always included drag acts, it’s never had a male striptease, Henderson. said

“Some of the members of our troupe were really nervous about it [and] we really had no idea how our audience would take it,” said Henderson.  “The crowd was much more lively and positive about his performance than we thought.”

But Belmont Burlesque doesn’t just cater to the Boystown audience.

“At this point we have older couples from the suburbs, college students, folks from the neighborhood and a lot of bachelorette parties,” said Green. “It’s such an interesting cross-section of Chicago people.”

After carving out a distinct style of burlesque, the troupe took on the task of producing the Windy City Burlesque Festival with Vaudezilla, another unusual theater group. The second annual festival takes place March 17-19 and features a free opening party on March 17 at Hydrate.

While the troupe’s monthly run at the Playground Theater ends in May, Green said they will do short runs of shows instead.

“I’d say we’ve been a consistently powerful voice in the burlesque community for nearly a decade now,” Henderson said. “And while things are changing for us now, I think our voice will be stronger than ever going forward.”

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