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Review: Angel Burlesque at Deluxe

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Friday, Jan. 6; Deluxe

You know you're in the right place when you approach the venue and learn the show is sold out; that the guy who told you this is actually hoping against hope that you have an extra ticket or two. It makes you feel lucky that you are one of the smart ones who planned ahead.

The new Deluxe room in the Old National Centre was indeed the place to be on Friday night, as a sold-out crowd was treated to a raucous and rich show comprised of 20 separate acts, hosted by Indy-based Angel Burlesque.

I'll admit; I'm a "burlesque virgin," but I am a veteran of the variety performance format: one act after another performing under a general rubric, in this case, burlesque.

Burlesque itself follows a rather predictable format. A performer enters the stage costumed with any number of layers of clothing and accessories. Over the course of the piece — 3 to 5 minutes — those layers and accessories are all but removed. It's akin to the "extra, unknown crewperson" on Star Trek. You just know this character is going to be a casualty; and so it's true here in Burlesque: whatever the performer is wearing is bound to be discarded.

Performers from Indianapolis, Bloomington and the headline act, Red Hot Annie, from Chicago, paraded to the stage, mostly one at a time, but sometimes in larger troupes and took off (almost all of) their clothes. Not one act disappointed; all the individual segments were entertaining and fun; and a few standouts were absolutely sublime.

Hosts Jeff Angel and Belle Breeze kept the chatter to a minimum; they were perfect and charming heralds for this evening of fun, sensuality and, in a couple cases, high art.

Here's a sample of some of the most delightful performances:

Headliner Red Hot Annie proved her mettle, especially in the second act, with her "Art-Tease-T" dance; a highly conceptual piece involving a canvas placed over her torso. The painting was of her torso, fully clothed in a dress. Using paint, she slowly "removed" the garment, by applying flesh-colored paint with a brush to the canvas. Brilliant.

It was a deconstructivist artform, in more ways than, ahem, one.

Dominique de Beaute, from Bloomington, was hilarious: her costume trope was a series of strands of pearls. She hurled them into the audience, causing great consternation; one strand, however, burst into a hundred individual pieces, creating a chaos of bouncing faux jewels. It hinted at the crazy miasma of sexuality lurking beneath the surface of performance art.

Rod Tollhouse received a (personal) standing ovation (from yours truly) for his performance piece. The sole male in the troupe (other than host Jeff Angel), Tollhouse held his own, entering the stage in a bathrobe fresh from a bath or shower. He began to apply lotion on his hands, slowly awakening to the tactile sensations of his skin. His character arc from perfunctory getting-ready-for-the-day (or night) to ribald masturbation was nothing short of masterful; the audience was roaring with laughter, appreciation — and encouragement.

I have not been this transported by a local performer since the 2010 Optical Popsickle II, where Know No Stranger's Brandon Schaaf performed his "Bohemian Rhapsigndy," an amalgam of air guitar, air piano, American Sign Language, and just plain physical emoting — it's an unforgettable gem. I'd love to see Schaaf and Tollhouse do some theater together.

But these standouts just scratch the proverbial surface of the wide range of talents of the assembled: Jada Bella's work was mesmerizing, especially her second act, ballet-infused piece on toe shoes. Bastet beguiled in both acts with her belly dancing; and here was a real surprise: swamp rock performed live on stage by two musicians. They could have had the audience up and dancing, had there been a dancefloor.

I attended the show with three friends; each of us had our own personal favorites, a good sign when it comes to a variety show. Angel Burlesque mixes it up, bringing a diversity of performance art — and sensual fun — to the stage. Don't miss their next show, Jan. 30, at Crackers: SuperBra XLVI.

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