Body-positive, sex-positive, and just plain sexy, the just-landed-in-Toronto spectacular-spectacular Ruby Red Burlesque is a most millennial pop concert hopped up on Viagra, complete with Insta-perf LED light displays and floor-to-ceiling video projections. (In other words, think of the vibe at a Beyoncé concert.) Oh, and tasteful nudity, natch. From the hand-bedazzled costumes decorated with thousands of Swarovski crystals to the attention-grabbing videos featuring the cast that accompany the live performance, this is not your usual saccharine The Wizard of Oz reimagining. For starters, it features a curvy woman of colour (Paige Murray, health care practitioner by day!) as Dorothy. Canadian company Concrete Vertigo is at the forefront of progressive multimedia theatre, championing diversity and representation of performers of all sizes and persuasions. Watching the performance, you can’t help but feel like sexiest, chicest version of yourself, because someone just like you is right there on stage. FLARE chatted with the producers and lead about the art of tease, moving beyond the “traditional” Dorothy, and of course, those ruby red shoes.
So, for the burlesque newbs: how does a burlesque show differ from a musical theatre show, or a strip show?
Cameron Chase [creator/producer]: Well, burlesque is largely about the art of tease. It’s not always a strip show—sometimes they reverse-strip, where they start naked and put clothes on! There are old techniques, but like all art, it evolves. And while burlesque is more about a singular performance, with musical theatre, you have more of a storyline. Our show combines burlesque, fashion, cabaret, film, and story, to be a sort of fusion of everything.
Stacey Ottman [producer/manager]: A few generations ago, burlesque would be very sexual and very risqué, but in modern society it’s more like a dance form and an art form than it is like a strip show. It’s different in that way.
Cameron Walker Fox-Revett [producer/musical director]: I think its artistic components are what set it apart. Each performance or number is a distillation of a moment, like looking into a single frame. It’s an exploration of character through sexuality.
Why did you choose to adapt The Wizard of Oz into a burlesque show?
CC: It was always my favourite movie growing up. It’s that everyman story about somebody who goes on a journey and has life-changing events shape their views. If we’re getting deep, it’s like a metaphor for life: we’re all Dorothy, and we go from feeling small and meek and scared on a journey to becoming who we are. It’s the kind of story that anything can be applied to, that’s evolved in different adaptations over the years. And now, it’s evolved into our 2016 version, when things like sexuality and gender and race are at the forefront of conversations. I mean, I’m not trying to make you reevaluate your life, but I’d like people to walk away and think, Wow, I feel represented on stage, or, I feel good about myself, I wanna go look at myself naked in the mirror. We just want people to feel good about themselves.
How is your Dorothy similar to or different from the original?
Paige Murray [cast member playing Dorothy]: The production is much more sex-positive and body-positive. It’s breaking traditional roles, because—let’s be honest—I’m not the traditional Dorothy. It’s the 2016 version, very modern and new. But there are similarities: she starts out very innocent, she’s coming into her own, she’s finding herself in this new world, and she has these friends that symbolize her transitions.
Why are body-positivity and sex-positivity important aspects of the production?
CWFR: We wanted people of every body type and every background to be able to express themselves, and their body and sexuality. It’s an opportunity for people of all denominations to feel represented, to see themselves on stage.
CC: We often get told that our cast is very diverse. But it’s diverse without trying to be. If you look at the cast, you see that everybody clearly comes from different walks of life, but when they’re all together, they look like they belong together. Which is how the world should be, really. Most people imagine Dorothy as a short white girl with brown hair, but when they see Paige in her costume, they’re like, oh my god, she looks like Dorothy. And we’re like, exactly. Everyone is Dorothy.
Is there a lack of diversity in burlesque?
CC: No, burlesque is actually a very diverse world! That’s partially why I chose to use it. Burlesque can be playful and sexy, and it can also be really carnal, or really comedic; you don’t have to have a specific body type, you can perform as other genders. I find it very inclusive.
Let’s talk fashion. What is your favourite costume piece in the show?
CC: I f-cking love those shoes. I love those ruby shoes.
PM: Yes, the red boots are definitely a highlight, I’m not gonna lie. They make me feel like a princess. And also this beautiful necklace that I get to wear at the end!
SO: I think my favourite overall costume is Alessia’s, the lioness; it’s very Princess Leia. But my favourite standalone piece is the light-up LED raincoat that Glinda wears. I’m too excited for it!
CC: It’s gonna be fabulous. Every costume is so sparkly.