When renowned male burlesque dancer Jett Adore took the stage the last time he performed in Montreal back in March 2012 – with just a glittering Venetian mask with a long beak covering his privates – rowdy straight girls and gay boys in the house rose to their feet and went nuts. Adore smiles. He remembers that night, too, and he’ll be back for more when he and his male burlesque troupe The Stage Door Johnnies return to the city for the sixth annual Montreal Burlesque Festival at Club Soda on The Main, in the heart of the city’s historic red-light district.
“What I love about burlesque when we perform is that it draws a very diverse crowd, everybody from older generations who know the history firsthand, to young horny frat boys and gay guys who love looking at the women and men for different reasons,” Adore says. “They leave feeling like they’re a little bit more open to different people. That’s really an unexpected thing that comes from burlesque, and I think that’s a really good thing for the world right now.”
The Stage Door Johnnies were formed in 2007 after Adore met his two colleagues Ray Gunn and Bazuka Joe in the Windy City. “My background is more dance than theatre,” Joe says. “But when I moved to Chicago I started getting gigs like dancing backup for drag queens. Jett, Ray and I got hired for many of the same shows. That’s how we all knew each other. Then [performer] Hot Toddy asked us to be his backup dancers, [which led] very quickly to creating our own act with three distinct personas. Jett is over the top, Ray is rough and tumble, and I’m the boy next door.”
The Stage Door Johnnies take inspiration from such burlesque icons as Bettie Page and Gypsy Rose Lee (who was based six months of the year at Montreal’s legendary Gayety Theatre – today Le Theatre du Nouveau Monde – during Montreal’s Sin City era). They have also mastered the tease, surprise reveals and tongue-in-cheek gimmicks.
“At the most basic level, I’m trying to explore an exaggerated ideal of male glamour and exploit that without sacrificing masculinity or legitimate sex appeal,” Adore explains. “I never really want to be a complete clown version of Liberace, although sometimes I fall into that trap!”
The Stage Door Johnnies – which is what female burlesque dancers also called gentlemen groupies back in the day – were inducted into the Las Vegas Burlesque Hall of Fame in 2011 and have headlined everywhere from New Orleans to St Louis.
“I wanted boylesque at my festival because we all like to look at good-looking boys onstage!” says Scarlett James, a local burlesque queen who’s the founder of the Montreal Burlesque Festival. “I aim to please – I want both men and women on my stage, and everybody is welcome, gay and straight. Everybody has different tastes, and we cater to them all.”
With the support of folks like James, boylesque is still breaking taboos. The first-ever New York Boylesque Festival was held this past April. As Bazuka Joe points out, “I love how the burlesque world has opened their arms to us, but there is still a lot of stigma about males in this art, particularly with the more gender-bending performers.
“Some days we look at each other and ask ourselves, ‘How did this happen?’ It’s been great so far, and we’re riding this as long as we can!”
Stage Door Johnnies
Stage Door Johnnies
Montreal Burlesque Festival
Thurs, Sept 27-Sat, Sept 29
1225 Blvd St Laurent