Despite Doctor Who's history of using its Time Lord protagonist's companions to double as viewer eye candy, it still seems difficult to think that anyone would have guessed that over fifty years after its 1963 debut, an entire burlesque production would pay tribute to a children’s sci-fi show. However, Hotsy Totsy Burlesque's Tribute: Doctor Who, presented by Cherry Pitz and Joe the Shark (dressed for the night as Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor) does seem perfectly of a piece with the era of internet fan-fiction and character "shipping," and the new BBC series (beginning from its 2005 revival) has, to greater and lesser degrees, acknowledged and even encouraged the interest of its fandom in its characters’ sexualities.
Burlesque, like fandoms, embraces enjoyment, not only that of the audience but also of the performers; also like many fandoms, burlesque never really went away and is currently enjoying an upsurge in popularity. Without getting bogged down in the differences between second- and third-wave feminism and attitudes about female sexuality, suffice to say that contemporary burlesque, done well, is about freely celebrating all bodies with sequins and sparkle, and Hotsy Totsy Burlesque provides that with aplomb, with men sharing the stage--and the pasties--with women in performing a range of Who-inspired characters.
This monthly event takes place in the cozy lounge atmosphere of the lower East Side’s Slipper Room. Before the show, the audience was treated to some Who-related music, such as the Timelords’ 1988 novelty track “Doctorin’ the TARDIS,” as well as a go-go performance from Apathy Angel, the production’s impressively flexible and athletic version of Clara Oswald, who performed again at intermission. Afterwards, emcee Cherry Pitz (the burlesque identity of playwright and performer Cyndi Freeman) took the stage with a cotton-candy-colored coiffure, TARDIS corset, and bubbly vintage-inspired persona, to reimagine the Slipper Room as The Home for Wayward Girls and Fallen Women and herself as awaiting her annual birthday visit from The Doctor. The Doctor--Handsome Brad (Brad Lawrence) as the irascible Peter Capaldi version --makes good on this tradition, and he and Cherry provide the bantering through-line for the show, with the suspicious Doctor and his oft-referenced eyebrows convinced that there must be some sort of alien menace (maybe dream crabs; perhaps Zygons; maybe even an Absorbalox).
The first in-character performer, Delirium Tremens, played Missy, the female reincarnation of the Doctor’s nemesis, the Master, outfitted with a black Victorian-style dress and parasol and escaping from handcuffs to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal.” Next up was a fantastic turn by Lucky Charming as “Captain Jack Harkness,” synced to dialogue from the episode “Bad Wolf,” in which Jack’s clothing is removed by a “defabricator” beam on a future version of What Not to Wear hosted by hostile robots. The performer really captured the wry self-assurance and winking sexuality of Captain Jack, and, having seen John Barrowman’s one-man panel at New York Comic-Con, we are confident in saying that he would be more than fine with this sort of tribute to his character. Following intermission and the chance to buy raffle tickets for bags of Doctor Who merchandise, a male Clockwork Droid (Cubby Hall) brought a little Revolutionary France to the proceedings and was relieved by a comic piece involving a Monkees song and a sexier K-9 (Mary Cyn) than fans may recall. The penultimate performer, Matt Knife, gave us Vincent van Gogh, complete with a painting like the one seen in "The Pandorica Opens" playing a key role in his removal of layer upon layer of nineteenth-century clothing and long underwear. (As an aside, it was an entertaining realization that Vincent wouldn’t look out of place in some Brooklyn establishments.) The final performance came from Cherry herself, albeit with the consciousness of the TARDIS having temporarily downloaded itself into her body so that “she” can dance. With "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" playing, she skillfully worked the crowd as Neil Gaiman’s contribution to the Who mythos and brought things to an appropriate climax with a pair of TARDIS tassels.
Hotsy Totsy Burlesque is a high-energy good time, with a lot of the expected puns between the dance pieces and at least one jab at Donald Trump, but also a lot of jokes that reward audience knowledge of the show, including a shout-out to the seventh-Doctor-era Happiness Patrol. Among the quips and tassels, though, we also get statements that sisterhood is important, that “pretty” art has value on its own, and that all bodies are beautiful, not to mention the gender equality statement made by alternating female with male dancers. The attention to the details suggests a true affection on the part of the Hotsy Totsy crew for their topics and reminds the viewer of the fun of being a fan, and we’re eagerly anticipating both the return of Doctor Who this Saturday and Hotsy Totsy’s upcoming monthly shows that include tributes to American Horror Story, James Bond, and The Star Wars Holiday Special. - Leah Richards and John Ziegler
Photo Credit: Handsome Brad and Cherry Pitz by Manish Gosilia
Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy.
When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.