Duane Park is getting a little more steamy and sizzling this winter, when a cast of established burlesque performers and actors invade the space to stage an elaborate murder mystery. Part stage play and part burlesque show, it’s a madcap evening of mayhem and playfulness — and, to boot, you can take it all in while enjoying the best meal in Lower Manhattan!
The story follows famed burlesque star Lady L’Amour, who longs to leave the art form, but agrees to one final performance before bidding it goodbye forever. But no sooner does she finish her act than homicide is committed right there on the very stage!!
It’s a glorious final bow in more ways than one — and it’s up to YOU to help the performers figure out how to solve the mystery and finish out the show.
Packed with live jazz, ROFL one-liners, and a heaping helping of audience interaction, it’s a raucous romp of an evening you won’t soon (want to) forget!!
We caught up with the show’s celebrated director and cast to dish on their involvement with the show, their history with burlesque, summing up their experiences in a book title, and much, much more.
Check out their answers below, and then book it to Duane Park for a theatrical experience you won’t get anywhere else... and a scintillatingly scandalous good time!!
Can you talk about how you became involved in this piece? What about it appealed to you? Why was this “the one” to do?
Chad Austin (Director): I received the script while I was out of the country working in Brazil. I remember reading the first few pages of the script in my hotel room and literally laughing out loud. I immediately saw the potential for a very sleek and stylized murder mystery production. It had just enough drama, camp, and comedy that I was sure people would leave the venue having had a great time! How could I say no? I returned to NY, met one of the Duane Park producers for dinner and a (burlesque) show, and the rest is history.
Jonathan Burwell (Mason Drew): I’ve been involved with productions at Duane Park in different capacities for over a decade. I had heard they were interested in producing an original burlesque murder mystery, and they then reached out to me to see if I knew anyone that would be interested in this project. After connecting them with Chad Austin and hearing [Chad’s] vision and idea for the show, I knew I had to be part of it as well. I initially signed on as Chad’s assistant director, but eventually, circumstances led me to [pursue] my true passion (acting), and I stepped in to play Mason Drew.
Gal Friday (Lady L’Amour): I was asked to audition by the owners/producers of Duane Park. I really love playing these crabby broads (it's a typecast, really) so the role sounded like it was right up my alley. Chad had seen me dance before and thought my personality would be perfect for that particular character. And as luck would have it, he was right! (Laughs)
How did you get your start in burlesque? Does it feel different here to be performing within the construct of a story, or don’t you feel it?
Pearls Daily (Cheryl): I got my start in burlesque when I auditioned — and then booked — a replacement contract for an Off-Broadway show called Play Dead. It was directed by Teller (yes, of Penn & Teller) and it involved macabre storytelling, magic, and nudity. I had never done anything like it, but I fell in love [with the form], and the rest is history! I love performing within the construct of a story [as I do here], and I approach all my burlesque performances as I would theatre. Burlesque is theatre to me… I just break the fourth wall more often. (Laughs)
Gal Friday: I started burlesque 11 years ago. I was looking to perform, and the thought of having full creative control was very appealing to me. [The form] is very DIY. That, I’d say, was my biggest motivation.
Maine Anders (Champagne Noir): I always say I didn’t get into burlesque, burlesque got into me. (Laughs) It’s crazy, and so much fun! I love to tell a story using my performance!
In terms of the striptease, the element of audience interaction is not necessarily stated as such in the script. Why was it important to you to have that additional element of interaction? In your opinion, what does it add to the evening?
Chad Austin: I really wanted the audience to feel pulled into the story from the start. And that includes even walking in the door to Duane Park. I wanted it to feel all-consuming, like you were thrown into a world that makes you a little uncomfortable…that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Audience members may be asked to hold a prop, take off a glove, unbutton a gown, or tend to another character. You [the audience] feel as if you’re part of the mystery, and that, of course, makes it all the more fun.
What’s the key to performing in the round and successfully interacting with the audience?
Pearls Daily: Reading the energy of the room. Having the ability to stay in the moment, while also being willing and able to improvise without losing the core story.
Maine Anders: Knowing that everywhere in the room is your stage. It’s an expansive experience that involves everyone — including the audience!
Tansy (Penny St. Claire): Keeping the energy up and engaging with the audience around you.
Chris Krause (Biff Johnson): Acting in the round is both freeing and constricting. You're constantly juggling where you need to play to, but since someone is always going to be at your back, the whole thing actually ends up being more flexible. You don't really have to worry about staying open to the audience, because there's audience everywhere. And whether the challenge is livening up a more subdued crowd or managing a very enthusiastic one, it always adds a fun element of spontaneity, which helps to keep things fresh.
Jonathan Burwell: Performing in the round is exciting and unpredictable. Though we are technically a six-person ensemble, every single person in the audience is another character [providing] an energy for us to absorb and use. Each one is a huge factor in setting the tone for the evening. Luckily, we’ve been so fortunate to have really giving and playful people with us throughout the run.
In what way(s) are you and your character most alike?
Gal Friday: I definitely relate to her "take no bullshit" attitude and her cranky old stripper ways. (Laughs) I love [her] outlandish antics and crazy scenarios. There’s really nothing better than cutting loose onstage.
Maine Anders: [When she speaks], an insult sounds like a compliment.
Pearls Daily: I’m very loyal and very intuitive to people’s needs. I actually take great joy in being helpful, and I’m also deeply sensitive. I will say, though, this role has definitely made me examine my dark side as a person and my motivations as an artist. (Laughs)
Jonathan Burwell: Mason Drew really respects and honors the art form of burlesque. He wants people to enjoy and appreciate Lady L’Amour’s contribution to the world as much as he does. I, too, have such high regard for artists in all art forms that have mastered their craft. I’m the type of person that wants everyone to know about a great performance I saw, a good book I read, or an inspiring exhibition I went to. Hopefully I’m not as obsessive as Mason Drew though. His passion seems to be unhealthy.
Chris Krause: I suppose we're both very driven in pursuing our respective careers, though I would say Biff goes about that in a slightly more... um… violent way than I would.
Can you talk about the use of the space? Why was it important to you to use the whole space and not just the playing area? What does Duane Park afford you to do that you couldn’t get or do anywhere else?
Chad Austin: Well, actually, the piece was commissioned by the owners of Duane Park. They had the great idea to venture out and do something a little different, with the idea of possibly expanding their audience. They began searching for writers, and once the piece was written, I was brought on [as director]. Then, for more, the challenge became how to make this piece work in a venue that was not originally designed or intended for a narrative-driven storyline [to be presented there].
I had to be creative in using the space… and that’s where all the audience participation came into play, and it just blossomed for there. I really give credit to the producers for taking a gamble and supporting the show and its creation. And the cast helps greatly to make every inch of this incredible venue explode with energy at every performance. I simply couldn’t be happier. It’s been a great journey for me.
Which character do you relate to the most and why?
Tansy: Lady L’Amour. Who doesn’t love a good diva?
Chris Krause: Mason. Anyone who is intensely passionate about something can relate to someone who has that same level of passion, even if it's for a completely different subject. I’m a giant nerd for all things comic, sci-fi, and fantasy myself.
Maine Anders: My character, Champagne Noir. She is who I’ll be in a decade or so. Her wit is quick and her sass is unapologetic! Such fun!
In addition to the burlesque aspect, the story also offers a mystery element. In your opinion, what makes a compelling whodunnit?
Chris Krause: The heart of a compelling mystery lies in the humanity of its characters. In a good mystery, the crime isn't really what we're most interested in, it's in learning which character we're introduced to would be willing to commit it, and why.
Jonathan Burwell: A great mystery will always keep you guessing. What’s so great about our story is that I think every character really has a reason to be a suspect. It really could be anyone.
Gal Friday: Tone, atmosphere, and, of course, it helps if every character has a reason to off someone!
Pearls Daily: Good mysteries make you look at the dark sides of people and situations. We all have that. A compelling mystery also needs a twist, and it helps when you can have a villain towards whom you can be sympathetic.
Tansy: A good plot, interesting characters, and [the idea that] you think you know who did it, but you don’t!
Can you talk about some of your other projects and how they inform (or not) your work on this piece?
Jonathan Burwell: I work regularly as a non-speaking actor at The Metropolitan Opera. In contrast, [my experience with] Lady L’Amour has been thrilling. It’s 80 minutes[wherein] you can’t let your guard down, you never know what is going to happen, and you have to hold on and just go along for the ride. It’s very different performing this show in an intimate space than an opera like Tosca or The Exterminating Angel, where there are close to 4,000 seats, a company of over 100 actors, and set text week in and week out. Performing with Lady L’Amour keeps me fresh and on my toes. It’s like an adrenaline shot.
Pearls Daily: I'm currently the star of a graphic novel series called Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini. My character, Minky, is the daughter of a famous detective in the 1920s who wants to continue on in the family business against his father’s wishes. She does it anyway and finds herself tangled up in the case surrounding the death of Harry Houdini. It’s really fun. Without giving anything away to both projects, it’s been great playing both the “good guy” (Minky) and the “bad guy” (Lady L’Amour) simultaneously. It makes me see and understand the other side that much more.
Maine Anders: Currently I'm working on my own one-woman show, The Last Day Of Black History Month: A Conversation With A Naked Black Southern Lesbian. My show tells a story within elements of comedy, burlesque and live music…. much like Lady L’Amour. That’s why this experience has been so fulfilling for me. It’s kept me sharp, fresh, fearless, and on my toes! I’m so very grateful to be a part of it, and especially to have learned so much so far.
In your opinion, why should people come out to see Lady L’Amour’s Final Bow?
Tansy: It’s a sexy, fun, date night at the theatre! Enjoyable for all!
Chris Krause: Because it's a blast! You get to enjoy great food and see some incredible burlesque put to a story. In addition, I do no dancing, so as to not scare away any potential audience members.
Chad Austin: [It’s] a fun night, with great music, fabulous food, and lots and lots of laughs!
Jonathan Burwell: It’s always great to see something designed to make you forget about what’s happening in the real world. Bring some friends, have a laugh, eat, drink and have a great time.
Pearls Daily: It’s immersive, on trend, and so funny. And for those who’ve never been to a burlesque show and may be intimidated to come, I can promise them this piece will serve as a wonderful introduction to the form.
Maine Anders: This show is everything you're looking for in a night out in NYC! Who doesn’t love a sexy, naughty experience that’s well camouflaged in class! You can take your mom, dad, spouse, lover, friends, colleagues and/or clients! It's fun, lighthearted and appropriate for everyone.
Gal Friday: If you don’t enjoy the stripping, there’s a play to watch. If you don’t love plays, you’ve got the live jazz. If you’re still unsure about all of that, the food is spectacular. Honestly, you’ve got the best of all worlds happening in one night of performance! How can you lose?!
Describe the show in three words.
Jonathan Burwell: Zany, sultry, farcical.
Gal Friday: Mayhem, hilarious, nekkid.
Tansy: Classy, kitschy whodunnit.
Chad Austin: Scandalous, hilarious whodunnit.
Pearls Daily: Voracious, hilarious romp.
Maine Anders: Glamour, sex, betrayal.
Lady L’Amour names her biography “Lust, Length and What I Wore.” If you were to write a book that summed up your experience on this show, what would be its title?
Chris Krause: “The Best Burlesque Seat in the House (And Occasionally, I Act).”
Jonathan Burwell: “Ass Over Teakettle - The Definitive Story on the Making of Lady L’Amour’s Final Bow and How I Came to Play Mason Drew.”
Chad Austin: “Downtown Dolls and Divas.”
Maine Anders: “Glamour, sex, betrayal.”
Pearls Daily: “Growing in the Shadows and Laughing in the Light.” It’s such a pleasure to take part in this play. I learn something new every time.
Lady L’Amour’s Final Bow returns to Duane Park (308 Bowery) on Feb. 20th, preceding later performances on March 13th and April 10th. For tickets and more information, visit www.ladylamoursfinalbow.com or www.duaneparknyc.com.