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A WINK, A NOD ... AND A LITTLE SKIN VELVET HAMMER NAILS A HIPSTER VIBE WITH BURLESQUE REVIVAL.

Byline: Fred Shuster Staff Writer

Taking it off isn't just a put-on for the Velvet Hammer burlesque troupe.

Burlesque, that quaint precursor to striptease, is making a comeback in clubs and theaters around the country. Although certainly ribald, burlesque accents costumes, choreography, humor and gimmicks rather than shaking down patrons for cash.

In the bump 'n' grind era of Gypsy Rose Lee and Tempest Storm, burlesque wasn't considered folk art but a ``poor man's follies.'' Compared to the fare at today's clip joints, it feels like vaudeville.

``We're entertaining people, not hustling guys,'' says Michelle Carr, creator and producer of the Velvet Hammer, a 30-member variety troupe that performs tonight and Nov. 21 at the Mayan Theatre downtown. ``It's a stage show done with a wink and a nod. And the audience is as unique as our cast.''

A Velvet Hammer production is a playful three-hour affair that includes campy B-girl acts, musicians, jugglers, skits and cornball comics. While traditional titillation is its raison d'etre, this troupe's peelers leave much to the imagination.

``There's so much sex overkill in the media that I think people like us because we're subtle about it,'' says writer Pleasant Gehman, a member of the troupe. ``MTV videos can be nearly identical to porn. People want glamour and entertainment value.''

Carr, who worked at the edgy La Luz de Jesus art gallery and co-owned the much-missed indie bar Jabberjaw, launched the Velvet Hammer revue in 1995 after becoming enamored of '50s and early-'60s girlie mags and stag films.

``I fell in love with the imagery,'' she said. ``We'd drop by (Hollywood strip joint) Jumbo's Clown Room and I'd fantasize what I'd do if I was up on stage. I used to think to myself, 'Why don't the girls put more moxie in their acts?' and 'What's with the white pumps?' Then it hit us - why not do it ourselves?''

Burlesque is also enjoying new popularity at clubs in New York (Le Scandal), New Orleans (Shim Sham Revue) and Vancouver (Fluffgirl Burlesque).

Elements of old-timey striptease entered the mainstream with the success of last year's box-office hit ``Moulin Rouge!'' which celebrated the fleshpots of Paris. The pop standard ``Little Egypt'' was songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's ode to the famous exotic dancer. And poses lifted from the repertoire of '50s pinup model Bettie Page often surface in advertising and videos.

It's fitting, too, that the burlesque revival should gather steam here in town. One of the genre's fondest memories is of elegant Lily St. Cyr's famous Sunset Strip act of the '50s celebrating the art of the bubble bath.

According to legend, striptease was born in the 1930s when a tired dancer at Minsky's Republic Theater in New York absent-mindedly began removing her costume while walking off stage. Fan dancer Sally Rand and ex-vaudevillian Lee added an artistic twist.

Since there's a performance-art slant to today's burlesque and the dancers are often nonprofessionals, a far friendlier vibe exists at a Velvet Hammer show than at, for example, the hard-boiled ``gentlemen's clubs'' that have proliferated over the past decade.

``We really want personality and character,'' Carr said. ``Every girl in the show is completely different from everyone else. Here, individuality reigns supreme.''

A Velvet Hammer night draws hipsters of all ages dressed in the style of film noir while maintaining a sense of humor about the whole thing.

``The audience becomes part of it,'' Gehman says. ``They react to the acts and get really into the experience. I imagine this could probably work anywhere.''

VELVET HAMMER

Where: Mayan Theatre, 1038 S. Hill St., Los Angeles.

When: 9 tonight and Nov. 21.

Tickets: $30 and $40. Call (866) 468-3399 or see velvethammerburlesque.com.

(1 -- 2 -- color) no caption (Velvet Hammer burlesque troupe)

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 14, 2002
Words:630
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