|by Stephani Deoul
|Burlesque? In Milton?
You read that right folks, Big Apple Burlesque is playing three dates in Milton this July and the show's producer (and once local Lewes boy) Matthew Barnes wants you to come out and enjoy the spectacle.
There will be a full orchestra, singing, dancing, skits, high camp, bawdy comedy and yes, tassels. But this isn't the Burlesque of yesteryear, this is actually Neo-Burlesque or New Burlesque and hey, it's 2008.
Tassels today have achieved equal rights and are now worn by both men and womenin what Matthew reassures us is a PG manner. And they have left nothing out, sparing no expense bringing New York to Delawarethey're even bringing the guy in the chicken suit!
If the thought of burlesque coming to Milton brings on just a bit of a smile, the story of Matthew Barnes finding his way to burlesque is equally entertaining. Matthew graduated from Cape Henlopen High (Class of '97), where some locals might best remember him as "the kid who sang lounge music." While attending Salisbury State he got involved in theatre and upon graduation, headed off to New York City and those renowned bright lights of Broadway.
Matthew soon found himself becoming depressed by the acting situation in New York. He saw fellow actors pouring money into showcases of their own only to have ten seats in the theatre filled and their money washed away. He began to realize it wasn't good enough to be one in a millionin New York, to be a success he would need to narrow his focus. He would need to become one in eight million. So the kid who sang "old standards" in Sussex County nursing homes did what any hip young man of today would do, he posted an ad on Craig's List. It said this is who he is and this is what he sings.
Amazingly enough, the ad was answered. A burlesque show needed his talents and as Matthew readied for his performances night after night and watched line after line form for a chance to get into a tiny hole-in-the-wall theatre, he realized that not all audiences needed nor wanted the big mainstream musicals.
And he learned that the successful rise of neo-burlesque was tied to its very original, almost long forgotten, populist roots. Long before burlesque became tainted with a sleazy image, it had been a way for the outlandish to politicize, educate and empower people with messages wrapped in boas, tassels and laughter.
And in the stage lights of that tiny theatre, Matthew's hard-earned understanding that he would need to be "one in eight million" began to coalesce. Burlesque is an art form that respected the differences and had something to say, "It's empowerment stemming from presenting things you wouldn't see on network television, challenging us through the sometimes outrageous, to let us see a different definition of 'the norm.'"
Empowered himself, it was now time to move on. Matthew and some friends formed Big Apple Burlesque and are quickly building quite a fan base, which Matthew is pleased to mention includes the likes of Alan Cummings and John Waters.
After the three performances in Milton, Matthew will head back to New York City where he'll begin filming a series for the internet, Straight on til Morning. The series is an original musical, with both mystery and road trip elements. It stars Matthew (who is also producing) and will feature many stars of the revitalized burlesque theatre. Straight on til Morning's music is by John Delkot and will be directed by Matthew Woods.
And while his goal to be one in eight million inches ever closer, the kid who sang lounge music still remains that local boy. A portion of the proceeds from Big Apple Burlesque will be donated to the Crisis Housing Services in Georgetown. It provides emergency and transitional housing for people in Sussex County. It was an organization that Matthew's Mom, Michaele J. Barnes, was heavily involved in. She passed away a year ago and tied into his spectacular homecoming is his love and respect for her work making a difference.
So, in Matthew Barnes' own invitation, "Come see...a collaborative collection of neo-vaudevillian performing artists, dancers, singers and musicians who have been presenting their own material in NYC for the last five years. They have performed everywhere from Times Square, Manhattan to Bushwick, Brooklyn in front of sold out audiences and occasionally warm reviews. However, they have never before performed in Sussex County, Delaware. The individual cast members for this show have been featured in BUST magazine, the NY Times, the Village Voice, TimeOut Magazine, Metro NY, AMC's Mad Men, and John Cameron Mitchell's 2006 film Shortbus. He promises it will be, "one of the most fascinating and disorienting spectacles to ever grace the stage of Milton, Delaware!" And he should knowhe's well on his way to being one in eight million!
Big Apple Burlesque plays July 18 & 19 at 8 p.m. and July 20 at 2 p.m. at the Milton Theatre 110 Union Street Milton, DE 19968 Tickets are $29 (includes hors d'oeuvres ).
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No.09 July 11, 2008