Burlesque Unzipped: Hot History from the Prairies

Prairie Fire

Victoria: When a fire tuck, sirens ablaze, pulled up alongside a burlesque venue, the awaiting audience and I figured we were in for something hot. But then reality kicked in; the truck had arrived to aid someone in the townhouses beside the University Canada West venue. And the show? It’s less hot and more edutainment. And that’s okay.

Prairie Fire (Sharon Nowlan) returns to Victoria in not one but two shows this year (the other being Caberlesque!), but Burlesque Unzipped is not a traditional burlesque show: there’s no giant martini glass or twirling pasties. Instead, Prairie Fire takes the audience on a history lesson of burlesque itself; the show is really just a lecture about where burlesque came from, censorship that nearly killed it off and its resurgence in the last few decades. True, the lesson does get dry; Fire trips on her words at times and it felt like she was reading off a teleprompter than lecturing to us from the heart. But by the halfway point, Fire became more comfortable with the material and started to really click with the audience.

We’re told that burlesque was never the cheeky and classy striptease show it’s known as now. No, burlesque has always been filled with more satire, political humour, parody and song and dance. (Some of her favourite burlesquers? Statler and Waldorf, those crotchety old critics in the top balcony on The Muppet Show.) Fire proclaims that burlesque is “the lovechild of Jon Stewart and me.”

Burlesque Unzipped, while being like a class taught by a truly magnetic performer (and the teacher most guys dreamed of having in grade school) reveals itself as more of the classic show Fire harkens back to. Between the monologue, Fire entertains us with a Mae West impression, a hilarious geeky striptease, an oddly sexy dance with a gentleman puppet, a trip into a stripper’s true thoughts and a stunning dance with two glow-in-the-dark spinning poi bolas with enough light to illuminate Fire’s figure.

While the show may not be what you’d expect of burlesque, it successfully sends the message home that this form of entertainment is much more; it’s the perfect balance of “sexy and satirical.” While Burlesque Unzipped runs more around 45 minutes than the described 55 minutes, the audience gets what it pays for. Prairie Fire is a true multi-talented entertainer and her lesson that burlesque should be a more a balance of a woman’s body and a woman’s mind is clearly seen throughout the show. It’s a fantastic concept. Once Fire gets into her groove with a few nights under her belt, Burlesque Unzipped is going to be one of this Fringe year’s memorable productions.

For showtime information go here.

By James Roxby