On Stage

Bellingham Burlesque

Not the same old song and dance

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

History lessons aren’t what audiences typically expect when they attend a spirited song-and-dance production, but when Bellingham Burlesque of 1927 shows Oct. 5-7 at the Firehouse Performing Arts Center, that’s one of the many side benefits those in attendance will reap.

As part of the Bellingham Music Club’s annual musical theater shows—which have included A Broadway Cabaret in 2014, 2015’s A Swell Party with Cole Porter, and last fall’s Broadway Takes on Politics—the latest offering focuses on a traveling burlesque troupe making a stop in Prohibition-era Bellingham.

Amid corny jokes (“She was doing so well at the police station that they decided to hold her over for two more nights”), a little bumping and grinding, and more than 20 humorous and sometimes suggestive songs sourced from the likes of Mel Brooks, Jerry Herman, Cy Coleman, and Jule Styne, part of the tale Bellingham Burlesque tells is that of a city’s changing landscape.

For example, at one point the character of Martha (played by longtime local Martha Benedict) bemoans the fact that the theater she runs—the Fairhaven Hotel—has transitioned from a respectable venue into one that must allow acts to perform she deems questionable.

“This used to be a nice theater,” she says. “Nice acts. Good acts. Vaudeville. When [my husband] Gerald and I opened up here, there were six theaters like this in Bellingham. The Capital. The Liberty. The Egyptian. The Grand. The Avalon. And this one. Oh, the acts that came through the circuit! Bobby Clark. Fannie Brice. Smith and Dale. Bert Lahr! We had them all. Sadly, by 1920, half of those theaters had put up movie screens. The acts dried up. Started making movies. Now its just me, and I’m renting to burlesque.”

Along with the aforementioned landmarks, the Fairhaven Fire Station No. 2, the Mount Baker Theatre, and Whatcom Falls are evoked, and mention is also made of local characters such as Dirty Dan Harris and Charlie Larrabee.

Meanwhile, Benedict will be joined onstage by other talented area performers such as Martin Bray, Akilah Williams Cariker, Amanda Carpp and the “Top Banana,” Paul Henderson, who will “bare all” through songs, dances and vintage slapstick.

“It is bawdy, re-creating iconic burlesque and vaudeville routines and scripts, with the funniest songs and dances we could assemble,” musical director Scott Henderson says. “We narrowly avoid nudity, but the humor is definitely adult. Prohibition-era Bellingham was quite the hot spot, you know, being just miles from the nearest Canadian bars.”

If you’re interested in more revealing burlesque, make note of “Sinful Sunday” taking place Oct. 8 at the Wild Buffalo. That night, the Provocateurs, the Dirty Bird Cabaret, Dame SinCyr, and Honeysuckle Rose will offer an evening of “sexy fun” to the gathered masses, and they’d love to show you what they’ve got.

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