It seems as though you can’t walk down the street in Ottawa these days without seeing posters for burlesque shows. To say that it’s taking off is kind of like saying that Miley Cyrus is a little bit into twerking. Burlesque has exploded, showering the city in a fine mist of glitter and body positivity. Now a new face is emerging on the scene, and it has a mustache.
The Mansfield Brothers are an all-male vaudeville troupe. Made up of three core members — Gregory, Stanley and Alexander (as well as a supporting cast of numerous others) — they bring prop-based humour, physical comedy and genderbending shenanigans to the burlesque scene. Almost overnight the Mansfields have gone from a filler act designed to keep the crowd entertained while the main performers changed costumes to headliners in their own right, treating audiences to their unique blend of finely choreographed humour.
“Everybody adopted a unique name, but the last name was always Mansfield. And everybody has a mustache,” explains Gregory Mansfield, the oldest brother and the co-founder, who rocks a shaved head/duster-style mustache combo. Alexander, who sports the most facial hair, with an impressive curled ’stache and full beard, is the troupe’s main dancer and choreographer, while Stanley, with his darkly handsome mustache and soul patch, plays the straight man and makes the most of the props and costumes.
The brothers have now performed with almost all of Ottawa’s seven burlesque troupes. “We bring a unique aspect to it,” Gregory says. “It is a very female-dominated art form. There’s starting to be more and more boylesquers that pop up, but there’s almost zero vaudeville. I mean, you can be pretty popular if you’re the only one doing it,” he says, chuckling.
As Gregory is the first to point out, though, being the only gig in town doesn’t mean they don’t have to work as hard. “The girls from Rockalily, the girls from Capital Tease, everyone, they have all their own unique talent, and it’s a very high calibre of talent,” he says. “We really have to be over-the-top to be memorable.” Routines include dancing to Britney Spears in Edwardian swimwear, an all-male performance of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” and a charming take on the classic NFB short The Log Driver’s Waltz.
Tongue-in-cheek genderbending is one of the hallmarks of the Mansfield style, but it’s always done in such a way as not to undermine the empowerment that burlesque represents for many of the female performers. “We all have very dominant facial hair, we’re all clearly men, so let’s throw on some wigs and dresses and see how this goes,” Gregory says. Part of the humour comes from the juxtaposition of intentionally terrible drag combined with tight, complex choreography. “Using that burlesque as an engine, it’s incredible. It’s a total vehicle for what we’re doing.”
The brothers draw their inspiration from a variety of classic acts, including The Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers and Mel Brooks movies. With upcoming shows in both Ottawa and Toronto, they have officially moved beyond filler status to become their own hairy stars in the burlesque universe.