The New York Times recently published a list of Valentine’s Day performances including a special series by the glittering all-girl ensemble, Rhinestone Follies. Always up for a good NYC night, I signed up me plus one of my more adventurous girl friends for the troupe’s Pre-Valentine’s Day Burlesque at the Triad Theater. Call me hippie or underground, but sometimes I fear that once an event has made it to the Times, its cool factor has already been traded in for mass-appeal and will likely be infested with poseurs and cool chasers. But after all, it was my first classic burlesque show and I could barely hide my excitement for the night of glitter, nip tassels, garter belts and G-strings awaiting me.

The night of the performance, my friend and I swiftly made our way through a modest crowd and perched at a table for two next to the stage. Seating at the Triad is intimate but plenty; there’s a balcony level (which was dark and sparsely used that night), so scoring good seating near the stage is a piece of cake if you arrive about 20 minutes before the show. The crowd itself seemed appropriate for an uptown night. As a mere twenty-something, I may have been the youngest person there. The oldest seemed to be a quiet couple, easily in the their seventies. Every decade in between us was represented, too; it was a mixed batch of singles and dating or married couples who were gay, straight and/or explorers. The place had warm energy… it was a very “open-minded” crowd, if you will.

With a ho-hum introduction, a suited-up man wearing glasses and a beard took the stage. His name was Bastard Keith, and he was our host for the night. His raunchy-sarcastic humor made for a nice interlude between the girls’ performances. And while I thought his jokes were funny enough, my friend (who compares her sense of humor to that of a 13-year-old) was in stitches the entire show.

Now, if you’re thinking about attending one of the Rhinestone Follies shows, let me give you a few warnings:

  1. Bastard Keith will make several geek references, so if you’re a Trekkie that’s a plus.
  2. If you’re shy about your sexuality, sit in a dark corner in the back. Bastard Keith thoroughly engages the crowd and he will call you out. He’ll tell you himself that the “dirtiest bitches in burlesque are never on stage.”
  3. Despite the fact that Bastard Keith is married, he will get dirty with you. He’ll      even ask you to tweet your naughty fantasies to him during the show. True      story.
  4. If you lack humor about your sexuality, age/race, outfit choice, relationship status, etc., you will be offended at one point during the show.

Even I was put on the spot for my lack of knowledge of being a “bottom vs. top.” Consequently, I was accused of being a 16-year-old. Well, let me be the first to thank you for this compliment, Bastard. I personally would have guessed 19, but I’ll take it!

Then there are the girls. I’m always one for girl power, so I was proud to learn that the Rhinestone Follies was co-founded and produced by three of the performers (go girls)! They are Kita St. Cyr, Hazel Honeysuckle, and Beelzebabe aka “Siren of Sodom”. It’s clear that the ladies love their burlesque, as their ability to connect with the crowd and still put on an enticing show was enviable.

And it wasn’t just them heating up the stage: Francine, the girls’ red-headed guest performer for the night, had a mean tassel toss and whipped her feathers like a pro. Lil Miss Lixx embodied every bit of a man’s French Maid-gone-bad fantasy, complete with a bedazzled champagne bottle in hand. The troupe’s latest member, Ginger Brown, engaged in a strip tease while belting out Chaka Khan’s version of “My Funny Valentine”. Any girl who can work her throat like that while getting undressed is a man’s dream, my friends.

I will say that as a fun change for an over-commercialized holiday, Rhinestone Follies is a great way to spice things up for Valentine’s Day. In my opinion, the best part is that the Follies are real women – thin, thick, dark-haired, blonde, pale and mocha. They look and behave like everyday women. Guys, I can only imagine that would help your date feel more sexy and confident in herself.

My only gripe is that, while the show is a reasonable $20 per person, there is a two-drink minimum for each. The “drink specials” are $12 a piece, so that makes the true cost $88 and then gratuity is automatically tacked on. You are also expected to tip the performers, but don’t even bother pulling out your Visa for anything – it’s cash only (am I the only person who is so over cash-only venues?) Between that and the knick-knacks you’re asked to buy during intermission, you’ve easily spent a cool Franklin. It’s still less than a fancy Manhattan dinner, but if you’d rather skip the nickel-and-diming, hightail it downtown to the Box and slip a $50 to the doorman to gain entry (and this is not even necessary if you’re hot). There you’ll get a free (and pretty obscene) burlesque show, cocktails that are worth the price tag, and plenty of worthy eye candy onstage and off.

– Tracey L.