On December 30, 2014, we ran a feature on Viva Dallas Burlesque and their upcoming show DC vs. Marvel. Producer Shoshana Portnoy grew up on X-men comics and, knowing many burlesque performers with similar geek interests, has run many geek-themed shows from video games to superheroes. The DC vs. Marvel show was the last live show in the historic Lakewood Theater.* Many of those involved with the show have been doing events, burlesque-related or not, in the theater for many years. Consequently, it was an emotional night for Viva Dallas Burlesque and its patrons.

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The Lakewood Theater, built in 1938.

I arrived thirty minutes early to find parking and seating. When I ran into Shoshana, she informed me that the show had, in fact, oversold. It was pretty darn exciting. When Viva Dallas Burlesque first premiered they had about seventy-five audience members. At the DC vs. Marvel show, there were over six hundred. For many of the audience members, this was their first burlesque show. Their interest was piqued by their love of comics and superheroes. One of the really fun things about Viva Dallas Burlesque is the age range of the audience, folks range in age from their twenties to seventies. When emcee MT Molotov was talking about the history of the Lakewood Theater, he polled the audience to see who had been alive when it was first built. One lone person raised their hand and received a huge, appreciative applause from the audience. Imagine, this person was alive during the Golden Age of comic books.

Audience members at all Viva Dallas Burlesque shows often dress up in 1930s-50s vintage. For the DC vs. Marvel show there were the usual vintage attired folk, but with a superhero spin. I spied these two (actually members of the Viva Dallas Burlesque troupe) in line for the bathroom trying to get their stockings adjusted.

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A feminized, vintage spin on Captain America.

Alas, these are the perils of wearing vintage—which I quickly learned while wearing white, vintage loafers that pinched my feet and tended to induce sliding. I went for a more Funny Face meets Mary Tyler Moore on acid look myself:

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Me (pink wig and beret for reporter legitimacy) and my bestie/photographer.

And I found a couple doing true X-men vintage, check out these “classic” X-men uniforms:

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Thanks for agreeing to let me take your picture, Vintage Rouge and Forge.

Emcee MT Molotov and performer and partner Reya del Sol also went for a couple costume as Green Arrow and Black Canary:

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Me, my bestie, and my beau quickly grabbed our seats before setting off to explore (Viva Dallas Burlesque usually has vendors selling their wares in the entryway). I met the owners of Freaks and Geeks LLC, a vintage retail company from my hometown Denton, TX that specializes in retro geekery. (More to come on Freaks and Geeks in a later post!) There were also the usual vendors selling pasties, vintage-style make-up, and other neat wares. I was disappointed not to see one of my favorite vendors who makes great geeky necklaces. . . I have bought a beautiful Poison Ivy cameo-style necklace from her, but you can also check out The Dallas Pinup store for more cool vintage and vintage-inspired offerings. In the background, the sound system played superhero television and movie theme songs including Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman and Teen Titans.

The show itself consisted of nine acts interspersed with trivia games and terrifically bad superhero jokes (as hosted by the most excellent emcee, MT Molotov). The show opened with Harley Quinn as performed by Polie Nigma, who really played with the zaniness of the Harley Quinn character. Reya del Sol followed with a Black Canary act, and Shan de Leers from Tennessee performed Kitty Pryde. The final act before intermission was Janie Slash’s stunning aerial silk act. This act was delightfully clever because who else would do an aerial silk act other than Spiderman? But wait that’s not all—Slash revealed the true identity of her Spiderman when she stripped down to a Venom inspired ensemble.

MT Molotov hosted a trivia event in between acts in the first half. This was particularly interesting because despite the large, and obviously geek, female population, only men volunteered to participate. Speaking for only myself, I thought about going up there, but then reconsidered because if the questions were particularly obscure I would bomb (superheros aren’t really my comic book jam). And there’s the whole the fake geek girl thing about bombing at comic book trivia as a woman. If a geek male doesn’t know the answer, his cred is not usually on the line, but it’s a whole different story if you’re a geek woman. The questions themselves were pretty easy, and many women in the audience clearly knew the answers, and let me tell you the wrath of the geek women when neither of the dudes could answer the question “what is Wonder Woman’s secret identity?” The two male participants were game though and great sports. Inspired by the cheeky burlesque performers, both dudes hammed it up to the audience, and both received awesome swag from Viva Dallas Burlesque and Freaks and Geeks LLC.

The second act consisted of Hana Li’s geek girl performance, Scarlette Switches’ Scarlet Witch, Donna Denise’s Storm, Courtney Crave’s Catwoman, and the return of Shan de Leers for the final act—Wonder Woman. I had the opportunity to interview Hana Li, Donna Denise, and Courtney Crave about their performances.

Hana Li’s geek girl performance was probably one of my favorites because it was a commentary on what many female comic readers face in a largely male-dominated industry. Wearing a batman onesie and reading comics, Hana Li played with the idea of the fake geek girl and the ridiculous sexy poses of comic book characters. She also did a funny commentary on the whole bespectacled-nerd-girl-takes-off-her-glasses-and-is-suddenly-sexy trope. Take a moment to watch her performance:

It’s this sort of variety of performances that makes Viva Dallas Burlesque such a delight. There’s sexy performances, powerful performances, cheeky performances—often all in one—with women clearly exerting their agency and playing with traditional conventions of sexuality. And that’s what’s most important about Viva Dallas Burlesque—the element of play.

And speaking of powerful and sexy, I want to talk about the other two performers I interviewed. Donna Denise‘s Storm garnered a standing ovation. Performing to the Scorpion’s “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” Donna Denise, a former bodybuilder, truly captured the powerful goddess that is Storm. When I interviewed her later, she told me how she had performed Storm before, but this time she did a lot more research including going to a comic book store for the first time. Because of this research, she felt more invested in the character. Now let’s talk about her amazing tassel twirling skills. Donna Denise has that rare ability to isolate her pectoral muscles and do the infamous tassel twirl that I have only ever seen done by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. When I asked how she trains for such a skill, she told me she actually discovered it by accident. As a former bodybuilder, she learned how to isolate her muscles, and it has just happened to pay off in her burlesque performances. The audience loves the over-the-top-ness of it and there’s no denying the skill that it takes:

Courtney Crave as Catwoman performanced to David Bowie’s “Cat People.” She told me that as a crazy cat lady, it was a no-brainer that she would perform Catwoman. As a pole fitness instructor out of Dallas, let’s just say Courtney Crave has some serious superhero muscles:

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Me (sans pink wig) with Courtney Crave.

At the end of the show, all the performers and members of Viva Dallas Burlesque gathered on stage to say their goodbyes to the Lakewood Theater. Courtney Crave, who has been performing at the Lakewood for eight years now, told me how she was on the brink of tears the whole night. Post-show, the plan was to get stinking drunk in celebration of the Lakewood and how far Viva Dallas Burlesque has come. If you live near the DFW metroplex or are passing through, you should definitely take a Friday night to watch Viva Dallas Burlesque perform. You can follow them on Facebook.


Many thanks to Shoshana Portnoy for talking to me about Viva Dallas Burlesque and the DC vs. Marvel show and for introducing me to the performers. Thanks to the performers for their graciousness and generosity in being game for an interview. Finally, thanks to my bestie and photographer for being my media “sidekick.” Viva Dallas Burlesque, I will see you soon at the new, top-secret location!

*Revision 1/8/2015, 5:16pm: Originally, I stated that “The DC vs. Marvel show was the last Viva Dallas Burlesque show in the historic Lakewood Theater. Lakewood, a restored 1938 art deco building, has come under new management, and Viva Dallas Burlesque will no longer be performing there.” Shoshana emailed me to let me know that the DC vs. Marvel show was the last live show in the historic Lakewood Theater. Lakewood Theater will no longer operate as a theater. Instead, it will be divided for retail to come in.