And I was not in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle — probably the four most important centers in the U.S. of the large burlesque and pin-up culture revival of the last 15 or 20 years.
No, I was in our little second-tier burg of Birmingham, in the second-floor performance space of Greencup Books, watching a performance by Pink Box Burlesque, a troupe from Tuscaloosa that recently celebrated their first anniversary.
The show was billed as a celebration of the “Burlesque Bombshells of the past,” including Gypsy Rose Lee and the recently deceased Bettie Page. The leader and co-founder of the troupe is Mama Dixie, an engaging host and solid vocalist who closed the show with what could easily become her signature tune, “When You’re Good to Mama,” from the musical Chicago.
The other performers included Lily D’Lure, Shimmy Von Braun, Mimi Amore, Tempest Le Blanc and Penny O’Toosh. Any burlesque troupe requires a comic, and that role was filled by Tommy King, who took part in a couple of sketches (with Mama Dixie as a comic foil) and offered a pretty good stand-up routine regarding the seven words you’re not supposed to say at a burlesque show.
Live music was provided by the PBB Orchestra, led by sax player Chris Johnson and featuring drums, guitar, acoustic bass and trombone. The band is good, with true jazz chops. In fact, some of the best moments in the show were when the women sang with the band rather than using recorded music cues.
D’Lure did two numbers with the band, including “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love,” by Cole Porter. D’Lure also worked in some bits of business with bandleader Johnson, who turned the Porter tune into a duet, at least for a few bars, by chipping in with a nice little comic vocal in the mode of Louis Armstrong or Tom Waits.
O’Toosh — quite lovely in a long, blue satin dress and white stole and wearing an orchid over her right ear — offered a nice vocal on the old Arthur Hamilton tune “Cry Me a River.”
Mama did Peggy Lee’s signature tune “Fever” while Le Blanc did a routine that involved a man’s fedora, a trench coat, some pasties with tassles, and the shaking of, well, certain very attractive body parts to a trombone solo. Your not-so-humble correspondent will keep tabs on when the PBB is planning another appearance, in Birmingham or Tuscaloosa, and let you know the particulars.