Arts Listings

Burlesque Revue Takes Over Ashby Stage

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday November 05, 2009 - 08:52:00 AM

Hubba Hubba Revue, a local burlesque troupe, will be mounting a show in an unusual location this Saturday night. Rather than in a club, the show will open at the Ashby Stage. 

“Normally, we’re a burlesque comedy-variety kind of show, playing in clubs, and themed acts can plug right into the show,” said Jim Sweeney, aka Kingfish, who produces and emcees the show. “But this will be special, a scripted play about people putting on a burlesque show.” 

Sweeney laughed and said, “I told somebody recently, ‘It’s not Shakespeare here!’ The people involved are all regulars in the burlesque troupe, playing themselves. I’m Kingfish in the play, because I’m Kingfish in our regular shows.” 

Hubba Hubba Revue was founded three years ago and has performed weekly Monday shows for the past two years at the Uptown Club in Oakland and monthly shows at the DNA Lounge in San Francisco.  

“We have singing and comedy acts, the mainstay of our material, with classic striptease,” Sweeney said. “There’s a big difference in what burlesque means in the industry and what it’s become today. First off, the striptease acts are not fully nude. And there’s a little story to them. The outrageous costumes are a big feature. They have a mid-20th-century look. There’ll be a couple of musicians and a singer. The music isn’t vintage; it’s all across the map. Wiggy Darlington does an incredible Carol Burnett sort of thing. Myself and my partner Eddie emcee, more old-time than modern narrator-comedians. ... And then there’s Zip, the What-Is-It?, who’s the Harpo of our bunch, with a gorilla body, but a man’s head. He grunts, he doesn’t speak. Kind of like a sideshow freak. Zip has a big car with ‘Hooray!’ bannered on it, which he runs out into the audience. It all jumps right at you in your seat. Not the kind of performance where you just sit back and let it happen!” 

Sweeney reflected on the appeal of burlesque. 

“There’s a sense of intimacy, of one-on-one with the audience,” he said. “It engages the public totally. The emcees are talking to the audience, not declaring lines from a play. And the audience heckles back! We know what a play is, what a film is—but different acts coming onstage, doing different things, all in one night—you don’t see that any more, it’s new to everybody now. It’s not like coming out of the theater with the latest special effects movie blasted in your eyes!” 

Sweeney talked about the old tradition of audience participation that he sees making a comeback: “During the seventh inning stretch of a baseball game, everybody gets up and sings ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’—and 40,000 people feel in that moment they’re out on the field. ... Movies came along and kind of incorporated vaudeville. People say it went away then, but it never really went away completely. It’s there, part of American culture. You can trace the elements back from Kermit the Frog through Ed Sullivan to the Marx Brothers. You just can’t do the same act in every town when it’s been on TV. The Muppet Show was the last stop of a second wave, after Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett, Sonny and Cher. The public would accept puppets doing it!”  

Sweeney spoke about the connection with the Shotgun Players. “Shotgun really reached out to us. They’ve been a dream to work with. The nicest people! Rich Black of Shotgun does posters for us. Several have been featured in a new book, Burlesque Poster Art. And we do try to go visual! Holding up cards, like Wile E. Coyote, when it’s hard to both talk and perform—like pantomime.” 

Sweeney concluded with a few words about other local burlesque troupes, such as Barbary Coast Burlesque and the Diamond Daggers, an all-lesbian troupe.  

“It’s a real undercurrent going on right now, all these different troupes, definitely under the surface,” he said. “It’s not the first thing you see when you walk out at night! We’re the biggest, but it’s such a composite thing. It’s a tight-knit community; everybody knows each other. And in this show, everything’s the same, but it’s different. We still have the tech guys, the lighting cues, our entrances and exits, but it’s not in a club, it’s in a theater. We’re excited about it, Shotgun’s excited, ... they’re getting something new, and Hubba Hubba’s getting something new, too. It’s the first time we’ve performed in a theater. It’ll be fun to see the theater people—and see them seeing a burlesque show and for burlesque people to see us in a theater.” 

Burlesque & Variety Show with Hubba Hubba Revue 

Shotgun Cabaret 

Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby ave. 

Sat. only at 8 and 10 p.m. 

Tickets, $20