Amongst the chaos and the downward spiral of the year, the dream of the 1920s lifestyle comes to life at Spotlight Cabaret’s Bourbon & Burlesque Show.
Review by Dawson Black
Wasn’t the goal of 2020 to recreate the Gatsby-era of the 1920s? To bring back the parties, the extravagance, the fashion, and let’s not forget the boozing? The desperation of the new year meant trying to find our way back to a time where everything seemed fresh and fun.
Located on Whyte Avenue, Spotlight Cabaret – a bar, rooftop patio, restaurant, and live showcase venue (what was formerly known as O2’s) – is hidden away through a small entrance. The venue is newer, opening in 2019, and has been dedicated to hosting shows including comedy, improv, dinner theatre and of course, burlesque.
I was instantly impressed with the venue’s dedication to the “Roaring 20s” theme. A large blue, red and gold painting of a goddess-like woman welcomes you as you ascend the stairs into the venue that is dimly light with chandeliers. Normally this kind of environment has a sense of ‘dinginess’ in my opinion, but I looked past it as it kind of invoked that feeling of the underground, secretive ambiance that floods the history of cabarets.
My friend Chloe accompanied me to the show. She is more experienced with the world of burlesque, having been to multiple shows and it was great to have her there to teach me the ropes.
The burlesque community seems to have some common ground rules no matter the venue. First, if the hosts ask a question, or if any part of the performance elicits any sort of reaction, react! Laugh, hoot and holler, clap and generally just be loud. It makes the shows more interactive and fun if you put yourself right into it. I was embarrassed when they asked who had never been to a Burlesque show before, and I simply raised my hand- an immediate sign that I was newbie.
We were seated at the bar, with the host’s affirmation that they were ‘the best seats in the house’, and we were curious to see if the seats lived up to their expectations.
The venue’s focus was on red and gold: large curtains were draped over the stage and back wall, the chairs and booths were lined with velvet, and it was clear that the owners stuck to their inspiration of “old Hollywood and classic New York”. Chloe was pleased with the modeling of the restaurant and said it was the nicest venue within Edmonton. . I was impressed with the dedication to theme and the commitment to taking us back a century.
Another reason to experience the show, beyond envisioning a 1920s experience of a speakeasy, was in the drink promotions. The show highlights bourbon in its title, and despite my preference for something sweet, I can’t pass up a $10 old fashion (or if you like bourbon straight up, it’s only $5 but that’s for the brave or the old). And if bourbon isn’t your thing, their drink list is sure to have something on it for you.
I have a need to try any specialty in-house cocktails that are on a menu no matter where I am. However, I am also always the first to volunteer to be DD so I lived vicariously through Chloe’s tastebuds for the night.
She gave up her sobriety to trying the popular drinks for me, including the Pink Lady, Strawberry Basil Lemonade, and the Moscow Mule. She enjoyed them stating, “you can’t even taste the alcohol” and got sucked into the rabbit hole of ‘another one!’ as they were all a little too easy to drink.
As for their food, it’s a typical ‘pub-style/’westernized menu. In an effort to combat some of the alcohol, Chloe ordered the nachos. The serving was huge, and they came fully loaded and were popular as I noticed many other tables had them as well. Despite hearing raves about the menu, I passed on food as the show was late, like almost too late for myself as it didn’t start until 9:30.
Creating an atmosphere of comfortability is one very important aspect of Burlesque shows. The hosts were persistent to get everyone chatting and mingling. In fact, I couldn’t even tell the workers from the audience, as there was a sense of familiarity and openness amongst everyone. This created a welcoming environment whether you were a regular, or a first timer like me.
The show opened with flashy lights and two of the most interactive hosts dancing, singing, and getting all the tables involved and excited for the night to commence.
Jeffy Halaby and Aimee Beaudoin quickly caught my attention and became the stars of the night. They were interactive and bursting with energy, while getting everyone ready for the performances.
As business partners, owners, performers and lifelong friends, these two hosts brought the venue alive with their energy and ability to make everyone laugh. They took their role as hosts seriously and made sure to clearly demonstrate and define how Spotlight Cabaret celebrates and promotes diversity, inclusivity and body positivity.
Even before the performance began, I and the others around me were all acknowledged, included, and respected by the owners. This made a huge difference in creating a safe space where we were comfortable and knew boundaries were being respected.
Even before the performance began, I and the others around me were all acknowledged, included, and respected by the owners, which made a huge difference in creating a safe space where we were comfortable and knew that boundaries were being respected.
Understanding that this is a space for inclusivity and body positivity really situates Burlesque as an art form and as a celebration of the human body.
There were three acts for the night, the first two being in-house performers – meaning they were still new to taking the stage and performing – and then the headliner.
These acts change regularly so it will almost always be different openers, while usually the same headliner will be performing for the month. I was lucky enough to go to one of the shows featuring Miss Nude Canada- Sachi Onyx Keller.
The first opener was an ‘Edmonton-known’ performer who goes by the stage name Betsy Rider. Betsy played it more ‘old-school classic’ starting off with a dance and costume influenced by the 1920s. This performance included a top hat and suspenders and her music choice was classical. She had poise and performed more in line with traditional Burlesque, fulfilling the comical aspect within her performance.
I felt her performance was a nice ease-in to the rest of the night, especially as I had been warned that Burlesque can be intense and really ‘in your face’. Betsy was neither of these things. Perhaps even a smidge boring as my expectations were set by knowledge of what Burlesque could entail.
Her act was followed by Billy, whom the hosts describe as the “beefiest boy-lesque” (yes, a male Burlesque dancer). Billy’s performance was impressive in the sense that the venue clearly holds up its diversity and positivity in proving that anyone and everyone are welcomed in the realm of Burlesque.
He was definitely more of an amateur. He used juggling as the focus of his performance, and would often have mess-ups, resolving them with a ‘sexy’ way to pick up his dropped ball, or just distracting the audience by removing a piece of clothing. He was very boy-ish and his lack of professionalism was masked by his charm, making his performance still enjoyable.
The openers kept things light and echoed the comedic relief that flowed from the hosts and made for an interesting twist on what would be expected from a burlesque show.
The second half of the act was when things really started to take off. Onyx, Miss Nude Canada, is well known for spicing things up and putting glitter…everywhere.
Her first performance was truly entrancing. She had a beautiful costume, and I knew it must have taken her forever to hand-glue or stitch her crystals onto her bra (which yes, she did do it herself, as she later admitted). The attention to detail and the dedication to the performance really sold me on deciphering Burlesque from the stereotypical ‘just another stripper’ perceptions of the art.
She performed effortlessly and it was clear she has been working hard at her routines, and I really enjoyed how her performance felt professional and put together. She performed with ease and took control of the stage. Her first act was very classic burlesque- flashy costume, dance routine and subtle strip tease at the end. However, she really switched it up and took the audience on a ride for the second part of the show.
For the second act, Onyx surprised everyone (including Aimee and Jeff) with assembling a pole onto the stage.
While this teetered more into ‘stripper’ territory, her performance was still very well received by the audience, and we were all caught with our jaws on the floor after watching how strong the body needs to be to do this. She still held a level of class when performing, and I was impressed by her impulse to make the stage her own and construct a performance that reached beyond even the owners’ imaginations.
I was astonished at the strength the performance would require with Onyx holding herself up with just one leg and contorting her body in positions I couldn’t even fathom. I can’t even touch my toes without doing half an hour of stretching beforehand and Onyx was using every inch of muscle to hold herself up on the pole.
To top it off, Onyx had a full glitter bomb drop from the curtains to leave the stage, and those closest to it, as a pool of sparkle. The ending was truly magnificent and the crowd cheered her on. The energy and reception of the final moments of the show was an experience in itself that I would go back to witness all over again.
The bar really did offer the best seats in the house, if your intention is to record and see everyone’s reactions and the stage all at once. I would have still preferred to be seated at a table, but with the shows being sold out every single week for the last year (since they started!) you take what you can get to be able to experience it.
Overall, the hosts and the headliner made the night a must-see. The show has been a hit since it was introduced and will continue to bring people in through the attraction of making 2020 as roaring as the last.
8217 104th Street
Mon-Fri: 5pm – Late
Sat-Sun: 10am – Late
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