Jo Jo Stiletto and the Theatre Off Jackson’s Whedonesque Burlesque

Sister Piston as Jayne from Firefly in Seattle's Wehdonesque Burlesque
Sister Piston as Jayne from Firefly in Seattles Wehdonesque Burlesque photo snagged as there was no photography allowed

It’s no secret that I love Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and Angel: the Series and greatly enjoyed Firefly. But it is a little bit of a secret that I broke up with Joss Whedon. At least reading or watching his works since Serenity. I try not to talk about it because of my deep love for Buffy’s universe and coming into conflict with those who wear the “Joss Whedon is my master now” t-shirts.

But Whedonesque was a burlesque show about the fannish love for Whedon’s projects. I couldn’t resist going when I heard about it. Plus, in full reviewer disclaimer, my friends Miss Elaine Yes and Captain Vanadium Silver were in it and the producer Jo Jo Stiletto is putting together a panel for GeekGirlCon. The show I attended was on Saturday, July 16th.

Whedonesque kicked off with host Rebecca M. Davis singing the theme song to Firefly. I was incredibly impressed with Davis’ hosting as I’ve been to a lot of burlesque shows, and she’s one of the best I’ve seen. She commanded the audience’s attention as needed and was delightful.

The Saturday show opened with Billy Corazon performing a truly fanboy number. Corazon went through the ups-and-downs of being a Whedon fan, especially concerning the cancellations of many of Whedon’s shows. A newer performer, he was full of energy and spunk. He ended up in his incredibly mismatched Avengers outfit, of which I was instantly jealous of his Captain America underoos.

Next up, Legs Montana did a tribute to Zoe from Firefly, and she brought along her own Wash (Rip Curl). Montana certainly pulled off strong and sexy, and I loved the bit where she tied up Wash with Zoe’s necktie. However, I can’t help but feel that a white woman should not be portraying a black woman. I know Montana did her performance in complete respect of Zoe, but that doesn’t mean it’s not probelmatic.

Mercury Troy then did a number featuring Drusilla and her dolls from Buffy: the Vampire Slayer. I was a little disappointed with Troy’s performance in that she had all these creepy dolls and barely did anything with them and she started to strip almost immediately. During the pick-up/set-up time, the crew (done as those creepy blue gloved guys from Firefly) spent a lot of time making the dolls sit perfectly, and then Troy only used really one of them for a fraction of her performance. And as for the early clothes shedding, Troy wasn’t wearing enough layers to pull off stripping that soon into her routine. I wanted more creepiness and more tease from her Drusilla.

After that Whisper De Corvo performed a belly, chair, and fan dance to “Walk Through the Fire” from Buffy: the Vampire Slayer‘s musical episode, “Once More With Feeling.” Maybe it was the angle of where I sat, but the audience seemed to be more enthralled with it than I was. Eh.

For the next performance, the blue hands brought a washer on stage for the Norse Goddess to do a routine about Penny from Doctor Horrible. While Doctor Horrible was a Whedon’s property that aired after I stopped watching his work, I know enough about it to have followed along perfectly, and I do think that the Norse Goddess commanded the audience in a wonderful way. I couldn’t believe the Saturday show was only her second burlesque performance ever. (The first being the day before.) Her routine featured Penny doing the laundry of Captain Hammer and Doctor Horrible. There was some more adorable branded underoos. And, of course, some riding the washing machine jokes. (Actually, there were a lot of masturbation jokes in this show.)

Speaking of masturbation jokes, next was Electric Fanny doing an Anya-inspired act from Buffy: the Vampire Slayer. I was so excited that someone else loves Anya. Fanny’s dress and makeup were perfect Anya. (In fact, I rather wanted her dress.) Her performance covered Anya being frightened of bunnies to Anya learning to love them again. Yes, Davis did plushie versus vibrator joke after Fanny’s act.

Following that, Rip Curl came back on stage to do a solo number featuring Wash from Firefly. Curl played with his dinosaurs, and he did a wonderful job at embodying the playful, loyal spirit of Wash. The audience definitely got into his performance easily as he started it off with Wash’s famous dinosaur toy scene, and I heard a lot of the audience saying the lines right along with the audio. There was a moment of surprise when Curl realized he had a dinosaur tail and how much he loved it. (Yes, more masturbation jokes.) Curl was fun and funny, and considering he was a bit older than the other boylesque performers, he added to the celebration of different body types. When he stripped down, there was a leaf on his shorts, and oh, yes, for the first time that night, Wash died.

Next up was EmpeROAR Fabulous doing a singing number “Nail Me, Captain Hammer” that he wrote based on Dr. Horrible. Yes, the song is just as dirty as you’re thinking it is. While Fabulous doesn’t have the greatest voice, his enthusiastic spirit and performance made this Saturday only number extremely memorable. Of course, it helped that Fabulous got to pull in one of the stage-seated VIPs, who dressed as Captain Hammer, into his performance. (Later, I found out that Captain Hammer is part of the burlesque community himself.)

I felt a bit bad for the next performer Mae Kim Beg is that she had to follow up Fabulous’ very flashy performance with a quieter, more reflective one. Beg portrayed Inara from Firefly relaxing in her shuttle alone after a day of work. (For those non-Firefly fans, Inara is a Companion, or a very high-class prostitute.) But Beg quickly won over the audience with her confidence and sensual movements as Inara slowly stripped off her clothing to wash herself with a sponge.

After the intermission, puppeteers Rachel Jackson and Paul Velasquez of Puppet This took stage doing their version of Whedon versus the FOX executives. There was a large screen where the FOX executives — as puppets inspired by Angel‘s “Smile Time” — gave orders; while out front, Jackson and Velasquez puppeted a large Joss Whedon whom obeyed. They were incredibly entertaining. And for even someone as critical of Whedon as myself, their jokes about the things the FOX executives forced Whedon to do were pretty funny. And yes, one of those things was Wash’s death. As Davis said when she came on stage, yes, they killed Wash twice in one show.

Following the puppets were my friends Miss Elaine Yes and Captain Vanadium Silver doing Saffron and Mal from Firefly. When the music started, Jason leaned over, all proud-like, and told me that he’d suggested the song (Marian Call’s “It was Good for You Too”) to Yes when she’d told him which character she’d be performing. (Said song was written about Saffron.) So I have this thing with performance where if I know the people well (like I do Yes and Silver), I suck as a judge of their abilities. I did find them entertaining, and my favorite part of their dance was after Saffron’s literal knock-out kiss, when Yes tossed Silver across the room. Jason says that Yes and Silver’s performance was his favorite.

Next Lexi Luthor performed as Dr. Saunders from Dollhouse. Dollhouse is one of the Whedon properties I purposely never watched. While I know plenty about the premise and have read a boatload of criticism, I have no attachment to the story or characters. So when Luthor’s act didn’t pull me in, I don’t know if it was my unfamiliarity with the text or the performance itself. Though it was indeed creepy when they put her into the personality-transplanting-erasing chair at the end. This number also made me consider how many acts from Whedonesque could be performed for a non-Whedon geek audience.

Moving from personality erasing to child brides, Heidi Von Haught and Polly Wood performed as Sweet and Dawn, respectively, doing “What You Feel” from the Buffy: the Vampire Slayer musical episode. Like with Montana’s Zoe, I felt the same problematic portrayal with Von Haught’s Sweet. And while, yes, Sweet was painted as a red demon, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer is notorious for lacking black people; Sweet being one of perhaps four black actors on the show’s entire seven seasons. Von Haught and Wood mostly followed Sweet and Dawn’s dance with a little added stripping and their own voices as they sang. Having seen Wood perform before, I was impressed with her transformation into Dawn and the portrayal of Dawn’s innocence.

After that, Sister Piston did her love song to Vera as Jayne from Firefly. (Vera’s Jayne’s favorite gun.) She was fun and spunky and adorable to boot. She embodied the best of Jayne from his toughness to his hat. “A man walks down the street in that hat, people know he’s not afraid of anything.” Her tease was a nice lighthearted break from the seriousness; which is one of the awesome things about Firefly, how the mercenary character was often used for the jokes. Plus, Piston had a lot of weapons to remove. I adored the gender-bend, which really made this performance more than just Jayne getting too close to his gun. Perhaps the best moment was when Jayne realized she had boobs.

Next, The Fighting Women of Performers’ Forge, Molly Boettcher and Stacy Bush, fought it out as Buffy and Faith from Buffy: the Vampire Slayer‘s “Graduation Day, Part 1.” My immediate reaction was just how dated their well-matched characters’ clothing looked. (The episode only aired in 1999!) They stuck mostly to the show’s scripted narrative. I can’t tell if every punch was identical, but all the major components were right on cue. While I understand how hard a scripted stage fight is to do live, I was left a little cold by how many kicks and hits were far from their target.

To warm up the stage, Miss Little Piza Paradise did a little sexy, naughty, and ultimately evil-making magic as Willow from Buffy: the Vampire Slayer. Paradise’s performance was definitely focused on the sultry side of Willow, and her use of candles gave the audience a clear marker that we were going to do some magic with Willow. That said, Paradise’s performance didn’t explore something new or go more in-depth or view from a different light what we already knew about the character.

To end the show, Raven Mad did her take on Kaylee from Firefly and her love of strawberries. She did well at keeping with the absolute adorableness and shininess of Kaylee. It was light and fun. Her ending strawberry-centric underwear was pretty cute. I did wish that she’d employed Kaylee’s parasol more than she did. Also, I wish she hadn’t spend so much time on the floor, but more because I’m short and had a hard time seeing.

Overall, I thought Whedonesque was an exceptionally well done show. The entire cast and Stiletto should be incredibly proud of their performances, and I had a great time at the show. If they put Whedonesque on again, I’d definitely suggest going if you’re a Whedon fan. And I’ll be looking forward to the future shows that Stiletto produces because I know they’ll be of a high quality and caliber.

0 Replies to “Jo Jo Stiletto and the Theatre Off Jackson’s Whedonesque Burlesque”

  1. Thanks for this detailed review. It is very much appreciated. I’m so glad you had a great time. I also appreciate your response to each act. Your review is lovely and, in general, glorious praise makes me suspicious so I appreciate that you added some constructive criticism to your review. Plus, you touched on some issues I’ve been personally mulling over for quite some time.

    I’d love to chat more about your break-up with Joss. As I said in the program, I’m no Joss scholar….I like some of his works but haven’t spent too much time analyzing/researching/critiquing what he’s done (I also have not watched much of Buffy and Angel). By the tone of the show, I think you can tell I’m a fan….but I’m trying hard to not be a “head in the sand” type fan. Sincerely, I’m sorta new to this party. I’d love more info to pack in my brain with more insight to possibly improve future works we put in our shows (I’m definitely game for adding a little commentary and sarcasm in our Joss-inspired acts). Like I’m suspicious of praise, I’m also suspicious of undying devotion (which, in fandom, is prevalent). I love burlesque because as an artform there is so much room for appreciation and criticism (and lots of other juicy stuff). Burlesque began as political commentary and neo-burlesque, the kind I personally like, continues that tradition.

    I’d too like to learn more about your perspective on casting white women portraying black men and women (or, hopefully in future shows, the opposite). I have thought long and hard about this as a producer so you can at least know it was not casting without any pre-thought or consideration. Burlesque, in general, has a history of cultural appropriation that I personally consider both good and bad (I could go on for hours). Much discussion has and will be had. My fear was that we would hit the bad more than the good in our production. But, at the end of the day, I knew each performer had great respect for the character they portrayed. I saw no reason, from my current perspective, to prevent the casting we went with. Vice verse, if a performer of color wanted to play Buffy or Willow or Inara, I had no reason to prevent it. After some initial juggling of thoughts, at minimum I knew it could inspire valuable thought and discussion. Race, ethnicity, cultural appropriation, gender, sexuality: all are interesting topics for the burlesque and cosplay communities to explore. I know that at BurlyCon (a conference dedicated to the art and education of burlesque) there are panels discussing and debating these very subjects. As a producer, somehow who is putting out call to artists for acts, I want listen, learn and participate in these discussions. Especially with folks like yourself, who are active audience members but not necessarily burlesque performers themselves.

    Other topics I’ve thought long and hard about (and hope to discuss during our Nerd Burlesque GeekGirlCon panel): Are we paying tribute or stealing? Are our acts parody and satire or blatant copyright theft? Is even using the name “Whedonesque” theft (or respect or both)? What about the music, the characters, everything? Dare I even address these things as a producer? YES! But I digress.

    Another topic I’d love to discuss more with fans, performers and producers: how to approach casting or call-for-artists that can be more inclusive. I sent a call to artists to performers I knew, people who had heard of the show and found me, and friends of friends. The show was cast and it ended up being pretty darn white. Was this a problem? How do I resolve? Do I approach additional performers or not?

    Again, thanks for the review and for gracing our audience with your attendance. I hope our paths will cross again very soon!

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