Saturday, November 13th
Das Theater der Enthüllung
Klaus Wowereit, the openly gay mayor of Berlin, may want to retract his statement, “Berlin ist arm, aber sexy” [Berlin is poor but sexy]. While this frank (and very German) catchphrase has adorned t-shirts, travel campaigns, and news reports since its inception in 2004, the statement has spurred an almost ironic reaction to the city’s burgeoning cultural climate.
Berlin is well on its way to becoming “rich and romantic” with the increasing blend of old-world style and modern sophistication. The rapidly augmenting number of hopeful residents and current transients in Berlin is staggering, too many times I have heard the now clichéd, “I came here on holiday for a few days and fell in love with the city.”
Berlin is a breeding ground for artists looking to catalyze their stagnant careers as the entire city is a variable playground and petri dish for creatives. Inspiration lies behind many crevices the metropolis adorns thanks to the landscape full of commemorated and veneered secrets; this is the constant struggle for the denizens to relinquish their historic guilty conscience. Berlin is regaining its stature as the cultural epicenter of Europe. It is a model for world-class cities.
It is no wonder then that one of its main attractions is a popular burlesque theater that is a throwback to old Berlin’s cabaret customs. Kleine Nachtrevue [Little Night Show] boasts a solid entertainment extravaganza that is classy, naughty and humorous.
Residing in Das Theater der Enthüllung [The theater of revelation] at the hotel Sylter Hof, a room many times used as a shooting location for film, old meets new in scene and atmosphere. Many original details remain including a scalloped ceiling fashioned similarly to an oyster shell, with a dazzling modern light chandelier. Adjacent to the auditorium seating (with streamline chocolate leather furniture and metal café tables) is an elegant bar full of mirrors, fine marble details, shiny weathered brass and plush velvet bar stools. The centerpiece of the room was the mini-thrust stage with two little wings and housing red and gold velvet curtains. There is an intricate beauty in the simplicity of the space with the (very Berlin) commonplace taper candles throwing a dimly lit shadow throughout the charming space.
The evening’s host and much of everything else was Sylvia, the brainchild and workhorse of the burlesque show. She greeted us with an über-smile and salutation, wearing a slim, blue velvet dress, perfectly revealing in the most latent way, her pale blond hair wrapped in a tight and effortless bun, her feet devoid of shoes. Her amiable spirit was infectious and as she touted off some clauses in German to my escort for the evening, I couldn’t help but succumb to giddiness in spite of myself.
The unique aspect of the way Kleine Nachtrevue operates is that it has two shows: a theater program with skits revolving around a theme, a series of unrelated skits and solo routines with a host that performs cabaret style.
Soon the first program for the earlier (9pm) audience began. Entitled “Be a Stripper, Be a Star”, the show was advertised as a lighthearted take on some of burlesque’s stars and faux pas in theater history. Opening with a skit satirizing the classic stripping genre, we were treated to a dancer in a construction worker’s costume. As she gyrates between bouts of elaborate and almost too-pretty choreography, two veterans look on, writing off this T&A display as being the opposite of what burlesque is all about. After the stripper suddenly rips off her shirt revealing her (pasties-less) boobies, she dances again displaying her extensive dance training and then gyrates off the stage.
Next, we are introduced to Baby June and the recurring characters from “Gypsy” as the “Let Me Entertain You” routine is parodied. At this point of the show, there is already a rich balance between funny and sexy.
Soon Baby June is dancing with a lifeless male doll in a hilarious bit that never takes itself seriously, creating a hilarious unforgettable sketch of super-stardom desperation.
A highlight of the first act was a multi-dancer fan dance, though at first I forgot for a moment that I was in Berlin, and the prevalent lack of g-string and pasties felt odd to me. The girls were totally naked besides their headdresses, and though there were teasy moments with the feathered apparatuses, there was little choreography to hide the nakedness of the dancers, but rather a pleasant combination of complex movements and a celebration of the female form.
Routine after routine, there was an obvious commitment to spectacle shown off – the dance was spectacular, the costumes were incredible, the acting was lively and the creativity was off the charts.
A nice twist on the classic balloon striptease was mounted by our host, Sylvie, who had already revealed herself in several numbers. But in this one she displayed her aforementioned effervescent personality, in abundance. She pranced around stage with her balloon costume, dancing, bumping, gyrating and smoking, using the cigarette to pop balloon after balloon, the audience full of bright smiles.
More solos including some softer cabaret singing and some more uproarious comedic dances that paid homage to the hilarity of old burlesque, with a modern flare.
Again our host rewarded our presence with a balletic strip danced to an instrumental version of a duet by Alicia Keys and Jack White of The White Stripes, and the first set of pastie tassels revealed themselves on the rear of Sylvie the dancer during her number, an inventive and hilarious way to defy their historic importance of the cover-ups in more inhibited venues.
In an off-the-cuff homage to Betty Paige, there was a calendar girl skit (danced to the song of that namesake) in which the girls pranced delicately and slowly in a straight line across the stage, each representing another month on the calendar and posing for the invisible camera. This was a very simple routine but the inventiveness was devine and we were all in stitches at the arrival of each month representative, again, mostly nude sans the appropriate props for their respective months and their identical bobbed wigs.
Though the show fell in and out of English in some parts it was mostly acted in German. There was an apparent sincere current mocking the attitudes of American-style burlesque. Dita von Tease and the modern burlesques were virtually laughed at. In a hilarious skit for a stripper class where a world famous burlesquer (from the USA) that proclaimed to be the best, the actress showed the audience and her students all the traditional elements of bad burlesque, everything borderline stripper tactics that have been glorified by performers and audiences. Even the gaudy costumes and cheesy choreography helped to further illustrate the less-desirable traditional American style.
The second act was especially lively and the energy was on a steady crescendo until the final number. The construction worker returned, this time with metal accents on her costume and brandishing a mechanical sander which she used to melt metal off of her body in hot, flashing sparks – uproarious applause ensued. There was funny a number to a classic Beatles song where the dancer dressed up with elements of a car and during the great reveal, she showed off two pasties made out of little tree car fresheners. There was a salute to The Dance of The Seven Veils, a leather and bondage dance and the show ended with a witty rendition of “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” from “Gypsy”.
By the end I was almost exhausted by the talent that exuded off the stage and was shocked when I realized during the curtain call that there were only four girls in the entire show. All of them chameleons, but distinctive, the show was so jam-packed with entertainment I hadn’t realized that the cast was so small. Though called “The little night show” it was big in a big way.
Though the first show was geared towards a more tame audience, it would have done well in a much larger theater, though the lounge space was conducive for an intimate, cabaret feel. The onlookers were primarily upper-class tourists and family and friends, with the occasional young couple here and there.
The second program was less formal but still had the same smooth-running technicality as the theater show. The night show started closer to 11pm and for a slightly lower fare, the mostly younger crowd was dispersed in the lounge seating and at the bar, watching mostly solos that went up every few minutes with short pauses between each act.
The most captivating and inventive routines were shown here, with girls pulling out all the stops with their costumes, make-up and tricks. There was a girl in a big parachute tube that moved around the stage like a dragon snake, the light reflecting the silhouette of her beautiful frame until at the very end she released the tube and exhibited her bare naked body. There were indeed lots of other gimmicks, all tasteful and more alluring than the next. Between dancing girls and sexy magic tricks, there was the co-host of the enterprise, a lively chap named Bodo who charmed us with classic ballads and musical comedy. Between acts, the audience was invited to dance in the intimate space near the front of the stage. It was romantic and reiterated that in Berlin, life is a cabaret.