This is our list of the best burlesque shows ever. They starred the biggest names in the biz, had the greatest impact on the genre and still have influence today.
Best Burlesque Shows Ever
Burlesque is all about satire, striptease and the women who bring them together. If you know your burlesque history, you will see these are the crème de la crème of all three.
In 1868 Lydia Thompson brought Victorian burlesque to New York with her troupe, the British Blondes. At the time, burlesque shows were in the form of variety performances. They had it all: theatrics, dance, song, parody, magicians and comics.
Lydia Thompson and her group still managed to cause a scandal and became notorious for their risqué costumes. This included showing a stockinged leg. Oh how times have changed.
They quickly became a hit because, as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Watch our short film inspired by this influential woman.
The Folies Bergère is a cabaret venue in Paris which reached the height of its popularity during the Belle Époque (1890s) to the twenties. It continues to be a landmark of the city’s cultural history today.
In its heyday, one of the greatest showgirls to ever live, Mistinguett, made her name and fame there. It was in the 1920s, however, that a darling of burlesque made it infamous.
The late, great, Josephine Baker took to the stage and elevated the art form in every performance. She is arguably the best known black burlesque dancer of all time and duly many a homage has been created in her honour.
Watch our burlesque monologue that is inspired by the spirit of this wonderful woman.
Following the success of burlesque shows in Paris, the Ziegfeld Follies were launched in New York. They raised vaudeville performances to broadway revues.
Their first show was in 1907 and they ran through to the 1930s when a crackdown on burlesque closed many venues. In the meantime they attracted such stars as Lucille Ball, Bob Hope and, of course, Josephine Baker.
Their chorus line, the Ziegfeld Girls, were a fixture that drew crowds for their lavish pageantry. Ziegfeld Follies’ reign is known as the peak of classic burlesque.
The success of Ziegfeld Follies in turn inspired their competitor the Minsky’s Burlesque. They too brought a touch of the Parisienne style as the first to use a runway to showcase their female performers.
It was then at one of their shows where a costume malfunction led to the invention of the striptease. Allegedly, Mae Dix and the success of her accident are entirely responsible. There are, however, skeptics.
The Velvet Hammer
After the criminalisation of burlesque shows in New York, the genre went further afield. The rise of other forms of entertainment, however, saw its slow decline. To keep clientelle much of burlesque evolved into what we know now as modern strip clubs.
The Los Angeles burlesque shows and the subsequent documentary were a driving force behind burlesque coming back. Run by Michelle Carr they featured such rising stars as Kitten de Ville. They proved there was a market for a women-run art form on the stage.
Crazy Horse Paris
In 1951 Le Crazy Horse de Paris opened its doors and became known for its mostly nude showgirl acts. Although it has seen struggles, its constant innovation has seen it become more popular than ever.
Originally the dance troupe members were chosen for uniformity in their height and shape. Though recent years have seen them become more diverse.
They also have a very modern style, using lights to create the tease burlesque is known for. This has attracted celebrity guest performers like Carmen Electra, Pamela Anderson and, their very first, Dita Von Teese.
Burlesque: Strip Strip Hooray!
The international touring extravaganza from Dita Von Teese began in Southern California in 2011. It returned in 2012 with a fully formed line-up.
The US West Coast tour of the same year saw the best and brightest of modern burlesque take to the stage. This included Dita’s bestie and costume designer, Catherine D’Lish. Plus, the likes of Dirty Martini, Perle Noir and, Crazy Horse regular, Lada Nikolska joined the bill.
Burlesque: Strip Strip Hooray! was the perfect opportunity for Dita Von Teese to showcase her biggest productions. In 2016 it ended its run in Australia giving way to the Art of the Teese show. Hopefully it will be back.
The Immodest Tease Show
In the noughties, British showgirl Immodesty Blaize enlisted the best showgirls in the world to put on an annual London show. These headline honeys were also often her fellow Miss Exotic World winners.
The success of these shows led to the documentary, Burlesque Undressed which peeked behind the curtain. These lovely ladies and a number of burlesque legends discussed the industry and its history.
The Hurly Burly Show
The Hurly Burly Show was a risqué musical revue that brought burlesque to the British mainstream, the first show of its kind seen in London. It combined cabaret, pop music and, of course, burlesque dancing.
Created in 2006 by Miss Polly Rae, it quickly took off and in 2008 began one of three seasons in the West End. It also did stints in both Australia and South Africa.
The format saw troupe performances with Polly Rae as lead but also unique, stand-out characters in the Hurly Burly Girlies. Notably, there was the fire-breathing, Kitty Bang Bang and the amazingly innovative Laurie Hagen. The combination of specialities brought surprises and audiences coming back for more.
For those who don’t know, we are Burlexe and have live London theatrical burlesque shows. They began in 2011 with a mix of song, story and dance.
We tell the stories of the women who created the genre and those performing today and we came along just at the right time. Interest in burlesque was mounting and we arrived on the scene in Soho with a string of sold out shows.
Burlesque performers like Fancy Chance, Miss Glory Pearl and our guru Jo King joined us in stories and dance with actresses adding their take. (The latter of which has taught 30% of Europe’s burlesque dancer and worked with the Hurly Burlies and Immodesty Blaize.) Whereas music was brought by the very talented, Kele Le Roc.
Watch our quick-fire answer to: what is burlesque?
(Main image from Jezebel Events.)