The Empire Strips Back: A Star Wars Burlesque Parody

The Empire Strips Back: A Star Wars Burlesque ParodyThe Empire Strips Back: A Star Wars Burlesque Parody is, well, pretty much what it says on the tin. However, although much like the recent boom of adult films based on popular mainstream properties like superhero movies and hit TV series, the use of the term ‘parody’ here is as much a legalistic disclaimer as a stylistic description. That said, whether endeavors of this ilk satisfy the literary definition of parody so much as just the legal one, what we unquestionably have here is a great deal of fun.

Conceived by Russall Beattie originally for The Vanguard, The Empire Strips Back is one of a stable of shows they produce, along with the similar Dames of Throne Burlesque Show and the excellent variety show The Batman Follies of 1929.

Having seen their Star Wars-themed burlesque before in its original form, I confess to having had my doubts about how well the show would translate from the intimate dinner-theatre ambiance of The Vanguard to so large and theatrical a space as legendary gig venue The Enmore Theatre. Even having heard that the show was being accordingly expanded, I was delighted to discover that it had indeed been translated extremely well, and magnified in scope far beyond my expectations.

Although it seemed many of the acts and performers were largely the same at their core, virtually every aspect had been significantly augmented. This is not just in terms of more elaborate lighting and staging, with most solo acts now featuring trios at minimum, such as the now whopping eight femme-Stormtroopers in their Busby Berkeley formations, but also with the addition of impressively elaborate props where before only the nostalgic costumes had been afforded. Flamethrowers, stilts, gigantic puppets, dancing and remote-controlled droids, even what appeared to be a projected hologram are all dished out for an appreciative audience.

So in a social media climate wherein disseminating “spoilers” is tantamount to a geek-war-crime, it is difficult to know how much to give away when reviewing a show such as this, because many of its best moments are those which elicit huge guffaws of incredulous surprise over what these performers actually manage to pull off – by which I mean these impressive technical coups de théâtre, not their clothes… although that happens too, of course.

Indeed, while legitimately sultry and highly skilled, any titillation engendered by these comely performers disrobing seems almost secondary to the sheer fun of the concept at play here. It is the in-jokes for fans of classic Star Wars that seemed to get the biggest reactions from the boisterous crowd, the inherent winking humour of these often gender-bending performances in which cheeky distaff versions of Luke Skywalker, C3-PO and Boba Fett et al strut their stuff, all to the explicitly encouraged whoops and hollers of the crowd. Indeed, it is particularly interesting for a burlesque show to take on a franchise such as Star Wars which, despite having such a plethora of characters, features only one actual woman of any named significance. So needless to say, the iconic Princess Leia is the subject of two whole routines by the mononymous performer and choreographer Tasia.

In fact, as lovely, talented and funny as the predominantly female cast is, surprisingly enough the real showstopper of the whole piece is an unexpected performance by (presumably!) the lanky Anthony Howes under heavy prosthetics as a most decidedly un-sexy male character, in a completely outrageous segment parodying both a infamous non-Star Wars film as well as of the equally infamous pop hits of the last year. Credit must also be given to Drew Fairley as the sardonic MC who pumps up the audience, shepherds the acts with a dry wit, and even unexpectedly gets his own unconventional moment to be centre-stage.

All that said, this show has a distinctly less subversive tone, with not as pronounced an air of faux-underground “sleaze chic” as compared to some of the other Neo-Burlesque out there. Indeed, the genre is clearly one that continues to diversify, and taking a show like The Empire Strips Back, both inherently given its subject matter and the implications of transferring to bigger, more populist venues, is becoming increasingly mainstream in some corners. Even the central striptease element here seems subordinate to energetic choreography and getting the geek-cred laughs as much as the wolf-whistles, the uniformly svelte performers seeming to have more of an emphasis on dance than tease, and most of the more off-colour jokes from Fairley’s monologues have been dropped for this retooled version of the show. Which is not a criticism necessarily, so much as perhaps a disclaimer for those new to the genre perhaps expecting something a bit more raunchy, biting, or with a misfit edge.

All in all, The Empire Strips Back is a tremendously fun show that had a large, almost full house extremely energised and engaged, filled with impressive costumes, stagecraft surprises and sexy, impressive routines. Sure to impress even casual Star Wars fans and a guaranteed hoot for the serious devotees, it is a great night out.

A Star Wars Burlesque Parody
by Russall S. Beattie
Venue: Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Dates: Friday 9 May & Saturday 10 May 2014
Tickets: $59
Bookings: | 02 9350 3666

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