Arts » Theater + Dance

Miss TaTas and Tiaras, from the judge's seat

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A surprised Bunny van Doren accepts her crown. - CURT GOBLE
  • Curt Goble
  • A surprised Bunny van Doren accepts her crown.

Katie Angel, the CEO of Angel Burlesque here in Indy — and a friend — sent me a short little missive the other night: “How’d you like to judge our Miss TaTas and Tiaras pageant?”

Never mind that it was a benefit for the Indiana AIDS Fund. I couldn't pass up a chance to be front-and-center during a burlesque show, scoring — yes, scoring, though not scoring with — over a dozen scantily-clad humans. “You had me at Tatas, Katie,” I said.

For the uninitiated, burlesque in its present form is a sex-positive, humor-drenched embracing of the art of the striptease by every possible body type: little women, big women, curvy women, skinny women — and dudes, too, or 'boylesquers.' For Miss Tatas and Tiaras, a trio of drag queens from Indy Pride’s Bag Ladies were thrown in for good measure.

The contest was held at Crackers Comedy Club in Broad Ripple on the Monday night prior to the Indiana AIDS Walk. The top fifteen contestants had been whittled down online via 'tips’ — those who brought in the most coin made the cut. To generate more donations, staged videos and photoshopped smear campaigns of the various contestants slamming each other on Facebook and YouTube appeared, 'surveillance images’ of the opposition kicking kittens and punching puppies. This stuff made the Senate race in Indiana look like a pillow fight.

Tips during the performance would be added to the final total, and that amount would count for half of the performer’s score. The other half? That’s where your humble judges came in.

The panel consisted of yours truly, another Central Indiana radio vet named Robb Reel, local photographer Angela Leisure, and Q Artistry Artistic Director Ben Asaykwee. We were parked at a table with reigning TaTas and Tiaras queen Pepper Mills, whose most recent hit was a cat-in-a-glitterbox number she’d rolled out during Indy Fringe.

Jeff Angel and Brigitte Petite hosted the show. Diminutive Brigitte has what she calls a 'plus-sized voice’, and used it to full effect for an opening song — which she followed throughout the course of the evening with no less than fifteen gown changes. (This troupe may be singlehandedly keeping Goodwill Industries in business.)

Pepper Mills kicked off the strippin’ with a 'step-down’ bit set to Chariots of Fire. Pepper’s got Betty-Boop-big eyes and is perhaps one of the funniest people to grace a stage — without ever uttering a word. She was immediately followed by the Woman No One Could Follow, Bunny van Doren. Bunny’s tall and curvy, and graces the stage with a charisma and charm that is immediately offset by her willingness to really get down and do it — and on this night, that included four pasties as opposed to the typical two.

Generally, for the female burlesquer, every act ends with a display of nipple-covered boobage, swinging tassels optional. Bunny didn’t just tassel her top, she tassled her butt — and managed to swing 'em with an acrobatic move that would’ve left Bela Karolyi impressed.

After a drag bit from Chlamydia Burns (this stuff writes itself), Ginger Peach, dressed like Colonel Sanders, stripped to Southern Culture on the Skids’ 'Eight-Piece Box’ while tossing drumsticks to the crowd. We’d already scored each contestant on their introductory gown — a possible fifteen points — and were now left with the impossible task of scoring each routine on a scale from one to eighty-five. With twelve to go, it looked like the cash each performer raised would probably make the difference.

As the inked and sultry Patsy Blue Ribbon writhed to 'Love Potion #9’, and Lola LoVacious handed candy bars to the judges (I responded properly, scribbling 'Bribery! 85!’ on my scoring sheet), we found ourselves getting a little worn out. Which is part of the charm of a good burlesque show — when it’s paced right, it’s relentless; alternately sexy and funny to the point of 'I can’t take it anymore’.

Kitty Galore did a piece wearing startling cat makeup, but the height of costumed weirdness was Rachel Yoder, the Amish Drag Queen. No songs, no moves, just a few minutes of priceless standup in a plain bonnet and upcountry accent. Gartered Coty Foxfire had fellow judge Angela hooting — maybe it was from the Patron (drinks were free for the judges), and Katie Angel finished the performances with a feather boa and her trademark brilliant physical comedy.

Scores were tabulated, then the final three were announced: Bunny, Desda and Belle. Then came Jeff's announcement: “Miss TaTas and Tiara 2012 is... Bunny van Doren!”

Bunny blew kisses and thanked the judges, pandemonium ensued — pretty impressive for a Monday night. The crowd could finally exhale. I gathered my jacket and found my wife and we hit the street, and as we walked down College Avenue, Mrs. W asked me what I thought. “Are you kidding? My FACE hurts.” And then, from a random woman leaving the club twenty feet behind us: “My face hurts too!”

And for any burlesque show, that’s got to be one of two measures for success. The other? Aside from the obvious, it's that Miss TaTas and Tiaras raised over $5,000 for the Indiana AIDS Fund. A former standup comedian, Ed Wenck is now gainfully employed as a writer and host of Indy's Afternoon News on 93 WIBC.

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