C.J. Lazaretti’s 30th Birthday Variety Bash

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When I asked seven of the finest acts in London’s cabaret and burlesque scene to perform at my 30th birthday party, I told them I wouldn’t review the show. But I never said I wouldn’t blog about it.

Last Wednesday was a triple milestone for me: my birthday happened to coincide, give or take a few days, with my moving to London last year and my earliest stints with Erotic Review. So I did what any sensible journalist covering variety shows would do: round up a bunch of cabaret and burlesque artists, book a killer venue and invite a VIP crowd of a few dozen movers and shakers from the scene to watch me being cruelly abused onstage. Whatever issues those bloodthirsty prima-donnas may have had with my reviews of their shows – and I’ve reviewed every one of them – I hope they’ve worked it all out.

 

Getting Even with the Critic

A prelude to what was in store for me came when Bolshevik duo EastEnd Cabaret made me gesticulate like a Midwestern movie floozie for their performance of Tony Bennet’sBoulevard of Broken Dreams. They were kind enough to allow me to pick someone else to share my shame.

I couldn’t resist the chance to work out my own workplace anxiety issues, and promptly drafted Mr Jamie Maclean, editor of this august periodical, to be the gigolo to my gigolette. Comedy critic and notorious bad apple Kate Copstick’s faint giggles could be heard above the burst-out laughter echoing through the room. I should have picked the vicious bitch instead, but I can’t mess with that one: she owns Erotic Review, and despite the crap pay, this is not the economic climate to jeopardize a steady job in journalism.

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None of them, however, can hold a candle to the ‘enlightened’ ladies of the Blue Stocking Society. At the sign of Madame Treasurer and compère Tricity Vogue, seasoned bump-and-grinders Audacity Chutzpah and Miss Laurie Hagen made me perform an impromptu burlesque striptease routine, with nothing but a quick run through the basic moves of the genre for preparation.

Belt-whipping Chutz’s notorious rump during my debut ‘act’ was quite exhilarating, but hardly getting even: I’m still getting texts and e-mails about the red underwear I simply happened to be wearing on that day. Thank you, girls.

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Proper Bump-and-Grinding

It’s too bad I can’t review my own birthday, because the heartless ‘cabaratti’ in the bill boasted some of the finest turns I’ve ever seen them do.

Fresh from hosting the London Burlesque Week semi-finals at La Scala, Kiki Kaboomtreated us to her Chav-a-rella routine, a hot dose of delinquent bling and overbearing sexual aggression. Good thing I hired security for the night, because I thought she was going to hit me.

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The burlesque front also enjoyed uproarious turns from Chutzpah and Hagen, the first as Mr Tumnus from The Chronicles of Narnia (gotta love a fan dance that sends lettuce leaves flying over the audience), the latter stumbling miserably with baroque pouts of sadness in her Drunken Strumpet act, which kicks off with her tearing a picture of, well, me. I must be doing something wrong – there are just too many women crying because of me in this country.

Miss Hagen occupied a prestige spot in the evening, displaying enviable vocal abilities in an opening act that reworked Morphine’s You’re an Artist (arguably the song that best encapsulates the debate on burlesque and stripping) into an ominous escalating march of confrontation. What a way to start the night.

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Numbers You’ve Never Seen Before

The cabaret artistes of the bill faced an extra challenge: from the three songs they were supposed to perform, one would be a staple from their own repertoire, one a cover song of my choosing and one a cover that, in their opinion, I wouldn’t expect them to perform (the burlesque dancers had no such restrictions – everybody knows I’m a sucker for a lady in pasties). The dazzling results of the C.J. Lazaretti cabaret challenge, however, show that my illustrious entertainers are as accomplished in following orders as in bellowing them out at inebriated dining spectators.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams was EastEnd Cabaret’s commission, which they brilliantly followed with Ping Pong, an account of their exploits in Thailand, and TLC’s No Scrubs, which saw the two divas complementing their multi-stringed musical bow with rap. Yes, rap – is there anything the two cabaretniks can’t do?

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Sarah-Louise Young gave a deserved rest to the many alter egos from her Cabaret Whore franchise to offer candid renditions of her tracks. I’m extremely pleased and proud that my birthday proved an opportunity for Ms Young to let her impressive voice take centre stage. What she did with Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Face to Face and Johnny Mercer’s Accentuate the Positive, her two covers, was nothing short of spellbinding. Her original number, Now That You’ve Left, was a moving ballad co-written with Michael Roulston, our pianist for the evening and frequent collaborator in her material.

Dusty Limits had no qualms about taking grossly inappropriate liberties with Lou Reed’sStreet Hassle, a gem of 70s New York gutter sleaze brimming with cabaret potential that I handpicked especially for him. The shameless Weimarian corrected the grammar in the song’s streetwise lyrics, rewrote the whole of the track’s central narrative as a four- (yes, four) line haiku and mashed it with Petula Clark’s Downtown and Minnie Ripperton’s Lovin’ You. He was a lot more reverent with his own track, Jolly Self-Harmer (another comic pearl co-written by Roulston) and Colors of the Wind, the Oscar-winning schmaltz from Disney’s Pocahontas. But that’s his loss, not mine: I’ve long believed that killing your idols is the only way to properly honour a trailblazing body of work. I don’t think Lou Reed would be proud, but I don’t care: I am.

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In addition to hosting the evening, Tricity Vogue offered by far the raunchiest three songs of the show – her set did for birthdays what Caligula did for mainstream cinema. She started by making a languid femme-fatale croon out of Depeche Mode’s Rush, fittingly performed in the dark and lit by a clever contraption attached to her corset (oh yes) as she snaked through the audience. Then the diva quickly produced her trusty ukulele and proceeded to smear my modesty with the highly confrontational, utterly slanderous Do You Take It In The Ass by the Wet Spots. I can’t help but forgive her: Ms Vogue wrote a song specially for the occasion, the contagiously funky Don’t Break My Bed, in which she goads the audience into a delicious sing-along of bed-squeaking sounds. I don’t know what shelf life the track will enjoy in her upcoming shows, but remember: you heard it here first.

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A Night to Remember

It’s truly incredible how fortunate the whole affair was. First, the chances of all these variety luminaries being available on the same day are more than slim. That roster includes not only the seven aforementioned acts, but the slick talents of Tom Mansi on upright bass and Michael Roulston on piano, who also acted as musical director for all the live tracks. The chemistry between them is almost tangible, and yielded stylish grooves that kept the show in full swing. I was especially impressed with their cuts ofYou’re an Artist and Rush, which played an indelible part of Laurie’s and Tricity’s breathtaking acts.

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As if that cosmic convergence of talent wasn’t enough, I also got the venue I wanted from the get-go: the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. After intensively reviewing burlesque and cabaret all over London, from pub basements and art galleries to upscale supper clubs and Thames boats, I can think of no better place for a welcoming atmosphere and laid-back charm than its wooden walls, red carpet and intimate lighting. As the regular haunt of The Double R Club and The Night of the Blue Stockings, it also doesn’t hurt that the Working Men’s Club is a hallowed ground of London cabaret and burlesque, and the setting to some of my fondest memories since I moved here.

I have nothing but the deepest gratitude to everyone who helped me make this evening possible, including my guests. Never in my life have I had this much to celebrate at the same time, and such a varied cross-section of talented, fascinating people to share it with. A special thank you to Kirsty Gillmore (AKA Honey Wilde) and Rhian Kennedy, for their heroic work in sound engineering and stage management. Further thanks to our corporate sponsor, U’Luvka vodka (not ‘U-Vulva’, despite what Mr Limits says) and tireless shutterbug Sin Bozkurt, who shot all the fabulous images scattered through this page, as well as some priceless video footage of this memorable variety bash.

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Critics are supposed to be careful with superlatives, but this was the best birthday ever. Too good to be true. Believe the hype. Six stars out of five. The Citizen Kane of birthdays, only better.

Did you make it? Look for yourself in ER’s Facebook album of Sin Bozkurt’s photographs, and see hisshowreel with selected moments from the festivities (including an all-star cast performance of Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me to the End of Love)

Had this been a review, you could grow excited about all the stuff above and get ready to catch this exceptional show at a later date by reading something like this:

Erotic Review presents: C.J. Lazaretti’s 30th Birthday Variety Bash. Hosted by Tricity Vogue. Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, London. 23 March, 20:00. Free. www.eroticreviewmagazine.com

But it’s not, so you can’t.