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Feature Sat Sep 05 2009
Have you ever wondered what Walter from The Big Lebowski (the angry Vietnam vet played by John Goodman) would look like wearing pasties? Well, how about if Walter were played by a burlesque professional by the name of Wham Bam Pam? Titillating, perhaps?
Starting this Saturday, and every Saturday in September, you'll get the chance to see just that, as well as a handful of other Lebowski characters in sketches, musical numbers, and burlesque routines as performed by the ladies at Vaudzilla Productions in their new show, Rollin' Outta Here Naked: A Big Lebowski Burlesque. More about the show in a moment. First, who is Vaudezilla?
When Vaudezilla's founder, Red Hot Annie, came to Chicago after a dozen or so years of theater experience, she did not immediately land the big acting job as she had hoped. So, like any creative, industrious, unabashed woman would have done, she went to burlesque. She met with "very quick success," she says, "probably because we have a big Internet presence. We use the Internet for everything."
How did she and her partner, Dick Dijon, find the rest of the strut-their-stuff ladies in the company? Craigslist. Via Craigslist, they would find people to come help with the shows, and these ladies would become "Vixens," or "pick-up girls" who help with all of the behind-the-scenes tasks (including picking up the discarded bits and pieces of clothing), watch the pros in action, and eventually let Annie know if they wanted to try their tails at performing. Call it an apprentice program for the striptease.
What makes Vaudezilla different from the rest of the groups in Chicago's burgeoning burlesque business? Red Hot Annie says it's their accessibility. "We like hanging out with our audience. The atmosphere is very friendly, not aloof at all." They maintain their professionalism while using a more "spitfire, tongue-in-cheek, more complex" style than you might see elsewhere. For instance, the previously mentioned Wham Bam Pam likes to create topical routines, including the super-sexy Swine Flu routine and the Michael Jackson tribute she debuted eight hours after the Pop King's passing.
So how did this whole Lebowski burlesque idea come to be? Dick and Annie were watching the movie and, although Mr. Dijon "has a habit of saying, 'We should do this!' and it's a crazy idea that would never work" (according to Annie), this time it really did seem like the beginning of a brilliant plan. (This writer will attest to the fact that watching the movie again with burlesque in mind does indeed yield a rich resource for the tawdry!) They ran the idea by some people in the community, and "a lot of people ate it up, so we knew we had a good concept."
Once they brought it up to the company, the ladies familiar with the movie immediately chose their characters, and those with less familiarity were assigned their bits. Take one look at the Lebowski virgin Maria May I as Jesus, and all doubts about this show go flying out the window. (By the way, Maria is the beauty on the poster, if you needed any further encouragement to attend the show.) Each performer creates her own solo work. If it's a group dance number, the resident ballerina, Donna Touch is the choreographer. And the skits are written by Dick and directed by Annie.
What does a Lebowski-inspired skit look like? These are the imagined moments that come before or after a scene in the movie. For instance, how did the crew get from bashing in Little Larry's car with a crowbar, to driving down the street more or less happily munching on In-n-Out burgers? Roll on in and find out for yourself.
As if you needed any more incentive, there is audience participation. Use your imagination. In addition, the show is partly (and oh-so-appropriately) sponsored by Diversey Rock-n-Bowl, and they and the other sponsors will be providing over $200 worth of gifts at every performance, rewarded to those with the Lebowski trivia knowledge.
If you can't make it to this show, you can catch Vaudezilla at a multitude of other venues, including (but in no way limited to) Thursdays at the Blue Bayou, an upcoming "vampire graduation" Halloween show, and a Basic Burlesque class taught by Red Hot Annie herself, where you can learn specific burlesque moves and work on your stage presence.
Tickets are already limited, so get on it! Rollin' Outta Here Naked. Saturdays, September 5, 12, 19, 26, 10:00 p.m., Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave. Advance tickets $15. Click here for tickets or call 773-598-4549.