There’s a scene in the musical “Gypsy” in which three well-worn burlesque dancers introduce the title character, a newbie to the stage, to an important trick of the trade. One has played a trumpet. One has covered her costume in Christmas lights. Another has incorporated ballet into her act.
“You gotta get a gimmick if you wanna get applause,” they shout between bumps and grinds.
Lauren Miller understands that concept. She’s a gorgeous girl with porcelain skin, hourglass curves and big, flirty eyes. But in an increasingly crowded burlesque field, particularly in Houston, that’s just not enough. So before, during and after a seductive onstage tease, she picks up a microphone and belts out a song. That’s a rare thing in a field of dancers who usually soundtrack their routines with recorded versions of standard fare such as “Big Spender” or “I Want to Be Evil.”
“I’ve always thought burlesque was very glamorous,” Miller says. “I love performing, and this is just a different way to channel it, a way to channel my sexuality that seems fun and different.
“My own personal preference is that I will not do a show unless I’m singing,” Miller says. “If I’m not singing, then I’m not being completely true to myself.”
Miller first started doing burlesque, as a dancer only, with Concrete Rose Cabaret in 2007. Her singing was eventually incorporated into shows. Founder Crystal Schultea disbanded the troupe in 2008 and went on to work as a costume designer and wardrobe stylist in Hollywood. In Houston again, Schultea works in the Houston Ballet costume shop and is back in the burlesque game, dancing as Coco La’Rouge.
Miller took a break from burlesque, too, and spent the time working on her music. Her voice has a husky quality that still manages to sound sweet, and her collection of YouTube covers has racked up tens of thousands of views. (Look them up. She easily outshines Madonna, Katy Perry and Miranda Lambert on their own songs.)
She returned to burlesque earlier this year at Prohibition in the Galleria, which launched weekly shows in December.
”If this pushes me toward a career exclusively in singing, I’d be happy with that. But I love doing burlesque. I think it’s more fun and more interesting. And there is less competition,” Miller says.
Miller performs independently of Prohibition’s Moonlight Dolls troupe, which incorporates everything from a saxophone player to fire dancing.
Fridays and Saturdays at Prohibition are crowded with beautiful people in fedoras, suspenders and feathers and the occasional bachelorette party. The club celebrates its first anniversary Thursday night.
“The concept for Prohibition started around our interest in crafted cocktails, and it kept evolving into a whole vintage, throwback idea,” managing partner Lian Pham says. “We wanted to create something unique for Houston. Many of our ideas come from classic burlesque and the great performers of the past.”
Prohibition also serves food, including ridiculously delicious truffle fries.
The club’s success is indicative of burlesque’s local resurgence. It was a popular form of entertainment beginning in the 1860s, evolving through the 1950s to include elements of humor and striptease. Neo-burlesque, which updated the traditional form with modern elements, surged with the arrival of the Pussycat Dolls. The “Burlesque” film (for better or worse), starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, and 2010 documentary “Behind the Burly Q,” also fueled interest.
Dita Von Teese is considered the gold standard; she’s largely responsible for keeping the art form in front of mainstream audiences. Her 2011 tour had several sellouts, including Houston.
“She’s really the person everyone looks to these days. People will straight-up copy her stuff, even down to costumes. She’s that iconic,” Miller adds. She’s glamorous, no matter what she’s doing — whether she’s performing or going to a yoga class.”
In addition to the Moonlight Dolls and the Houston Burlesque Revue, performers include Dem Damn Dames, Ruby Revue Burlesque (based in Dallas but regularly in Houston) and Kiki Maroon’s Sordid Sideshow, which incorporates circus elements. Each troupe puts its own spin on the classic elements.
“Burlesque is back with a vengeance in Houston,” Lady Jae says.
Indeed, a recent ladies night at F Bar in Montrose seamlessly incorporated burlesque into a Thursday mix of DJ music and dancing. The largely female crowd huddled near the stage for an act featuring Miller, Lady Jae and Schultea. Mistress of ceremonies Al.E.Cat ushered acts on and offstage — and eventually stripped down herself. There were fan and balloon dances, spinning tassels and Miller’s terrific take on “You Can Leave Your Hat On.”
Houston Burlesque Revue’s upcoming show at the Bayou Music Center takes things further, incorporating live vocals and the Bayou City Outlaw Band, alongside the teasing. The producers of the Dallas Burlesque Festival and the Ruby Revue Burlesque Show will partner for the first Texas Tease-a-Thon, Oct. 20 at the House of Blues.
“Burlesque is a scene where you can truly be yourself, expose raw emotion and sexuality and really entertain an audience with everything you’ve got. I felt this was the world I have been waiting to perform in,” Lady Jae says.
“The glamour, the sex appeal, the way it empowers women and puts them in control of the show. And, of course, the costuming.”
Burlesque on the Bayou
With: Lauren Miller, Houston Burlesque Revue, Bayou City Outlaw Band
When: 8:30 p.m. Aug. 9
Where: Bayou Music Center, 520 Texas
Tickets: $25; 713-230-1666 or livenation.com
Burlesque in Houston
Houston Burlesque Revue: houstonburlesquerevue.com
The Moonlight Dolls at Prohibition: prohibitionhouston.com
Dem Damn Dames: damndames.com
Kiki Maroon’s Sordid Sideshow: sordidsideshow.com
Ruby Revue Burlesque: rubyrevue.com