— Pamela Roth
With shows named Booooo-bs! All Hallows Tease, a Naughty but Nice Peepshow, and Bump and Grind Valentine coming to the Blue Bridge at the Roxy over the next several months, one might question whether the former cinema-turned-live theatre is turning into a strip club.
Although stripping is involved, the performers with the Cheesecake Burlesque Revue offer more than just sparkly costumes that are eventually reduced to underwear.
“There’s some comedy, there’s lots of singing, a couple girls play instruments. A lot of the costumes are over the top,” said Cheesecake performer Betsy Bottom Dollar, a government employee who prefers to go by her stage name.
“We really pride ourselves on our big group numbers, which I think really adds to that variety too.”
Founded in 2007 and formerly known as the Capital City Cheesecake Burlesque Revue, the high-energy shows draw on influences from cult classics like Priscilla Queen of the Desert to Broadway favourties like Guys and Dolls. The dozen or so performers are as individual as the stars on the walk of fame, ranging from cute and geeky, rock ‘n’ roll, to classic, elegant and the girl-next-door.
According to Betsy, the group tours throughout the province with some members branching out of the country. Victoria is generally the smallest crowd due to the size of its venues, but the shows are often a sell out.
Champagne Sparkles, the group leader, had a vision to create a show that was non offensive and family friendly. Most people in the audience are female, who sometimes bring their teenage daughters.
“They can see what real people look like. We’re really bombarded with images of this ideal that’s not attainable,” said Betsy, one of two emcees with Cheesecake Burlesque Revue.
The 47-year-old has been a performer her entire life, entertaining audiences in Las Vegas, New York and Berlin. After performing as a drag queen for 10 years with Dragettes, Betsy got pulled into burlesque when the group asked her to do choreography and she watched Cheesecake perform, she loved what she saw.
“They were just so clever and funny and witty. Not as scary as drag queens can be,” said Betsy, noting there are many different types of burlesque. “The women were all ages and shapes and sizes and there was such joy in it. I got hooked pretty quickly.”
Betsy has always loved the stage, but admits she was uncomfortable with taking off her clothes in front of a crowd after gaining weight due to a herniated disc. The first time she stripped down, the group was performing out of town and needed more people in the show.
Since Betsy was the choreographer, she was persuaded to put on a costume, but it didn’t include a corset. Being the biggest girl on that tour, Betsy said the show was life- changing.
“I went out there and I realized in the moment of the applause that the crowd didn’t care as long as they were entertained. That was a huge piece for me,” she said. “I am way more confident than I ever was when I was real thin and able to run every day of the week. Every single show we get feedback from the crowd of how it changed their lives. They see these people that are beautiful and sexy and confident and having fun that look just like them — with a few more rhinestones and glitter on their faces.”
Cheesecake’s season opens with Boooooo-bs! An all-Hallows Tease on Oct. 30.