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Burlesque ... With Something Extra 

Will Coviello talks with two of the performers from Boylesk!.

Dec. 2

Boylesk

8 p.m. & 10:30 p.m. Friday

House of Blues, 225 Decatur St., 310-4999; www.hob.com

click to enlarge Ray Gunn (center) performs with Chicago's Stage Door Johnnies.
  • Ray Gunn (center) performs with Chicago's Stage Door Johnnies.

As the new burlesque scene continues to grow, male burlesque dancers are becoming a more regular part of the variety showcases of striptease, singing, comedy and other assorted retro vaudevillian acts. But male dancers still sometimes surprise audiences, says Ray Gunn, who appears in the debut Friday of the all-male Boylesk show at House of Blues.

  "I was in Nashville, and I came out and there were a couple of big guys — kind of bubbas — in the front row. They were clearly not happy to see a guy," Gunn says. "I just pushed through and did my act. At the end, I looked back and they were clapping and cheering. Male audiences can appreciate it because there's theatrics and artistry. It's not all, 'Oh, I think that dude is hot.'"

  Gunn brings that same piece, based on the bamboozling snake Kaa in The Jungle Book, to Boylesk. The all-male showcase also includes Gunn's fellow performers from Chicago's Stage Door Johnnies, other dancers, including New York's Evil Hate Monkey, plus a wise-cracking host and magician.

  The Stage Door Johnnies troupe was founded three years ago, and roughly two years ago the group began weekly performances at the predominantly gay dance club Hydrate. Both as featured solo performers and as a group, the dancers now travel often and usually perform in burlesque shows filled with women. Gunn and other Johnnies also have performed at the annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival.

  Male dancers are nothing new. Female impersonator performances in public establishments in New Orleans have been around since as early as the 1930s at the Club My-Oh-My, and explicitly erotic muscular mugging from troupes like Chippendales have performed nationally since that group was founded in the late 1970s. But men only joined the retro burlesque revival in appreciable numbers roughly 10 years ago. New Orleans Burlesque Festival founder Rick Delaup is about to see if its time has come in New Orleans.

  "It's a show I've been wanting to do for a while," Delaup says. "It's a fairly new scene, and there are a handful of good performers."

  Gunn has a background in formal dance, both ballet and modern, and has his own troupe, Corpo Dance Company. He got into burlesque when he did some backup dancing for a performer known as Hot Toddy, who then organized the Stage Door Johnnies. The group is now a trio, and Gunn is joined by Bazuka Joe and Jett Adore, who have theater and dance backgrounds. They have adapted elements of famous burlesque stars' acts. Bazuka Joe adapted Sally Rand's fan dance, and Gunn uses a bathtub to do a variation on the Champagne glass act.

  For nine years, The Evil Hate Monkey has traveled and performed with burlesque dancer Trixie Little. They have put together everything from fringe festival to off-Broadway cabaret shows. He's seen male burlesque develop by incorporating storylines and kitsch, but he'd also like to see it be more risque.

  "In New York, the boundary has been pushed pretty far," he says. "In a lot of places, I'd like to see guys push it further. Let's get rid of the G-string."

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