By Don Chareunsy
Topless revues are one of the heralded entertainment staples of the Strip; one might even say that they’re a rite of passage for a Las Vegas visitor. Tourists have many options, from the classic kitsch of “Jubilee!” at Bally's to the shiny, new star power of “Peepshow” at Planet Hollywood. And then there’s “X Burlesque.”
The edgy, erotic topless tour de force has made a name for itself with its in-your-face striptease and fiery choreography; tonight, the Flamingo-based show celebrates 10 years of eye-popping performances on the Strip.
The show changes its short-but-sweet succession of acts every year, updating them to stay on the cutting edge of performance trends, be it dance, fashion or music. And it’s that ability to keep audiences on their toes that is perhaps the secret to “X Burlesque’s” longevity.
When the show opened in 2002 at the Aladdin, it was simply “X,” a racy, high-energy dance show that blurred the boundaries between “topless revue” and “strip club.” However, unlike many of its peer revues, few of “X’s” original acts have remained a part of the show; creator and co-producer Angela Stabile has made it a point of changing featured performances every year to keep audiences on their toes.
“I think celebrating 10 years confirms the show as a great success,” Stabile says. “And I think changing it every year and keeping it updated accounts for the longevity.” (A keen observer will note that this year's celebration is for the overall years on the Strip; last year and in 2010, it was for the show's time at the Flamingo.)
Stabile, who co-produces the show with her husband, Matt, is a veteran of topless revues herself. After performing in the Riviera’s “Crazy Girls” for 10 years, she sought to create “X” as the sexier, hipper answer to the Strip’s more traditional offerings.
“I learned a lot in those 10 years, I saw what worked and what didn’t,” she explains. “I developed a feel for what would be a great show — I had always wanted to be part of a show that was edgier and more intimate than what was out there at the time.”
When Stabile heard that the Aladdin was looking to open its own revue, she jumped at the opportunity and began to develop the concept with Matt that would become “X.”
After Aladdin closed in 2007, “X” moved to the Flamingo, where it added “Burlesque” to its name and updated the format to make it more fast-paced. The new show also incorporated the burlesque edge popularized at the time by performers like Dita Von Teese and now by movies like “Burlesque.” Despite the transformation, Stabile is quick to note that the show has remained true to its original spirit.
“Yes, it will always have a super-sexy format. But what’s also key is that it’s fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously, and in that way we’ve stayed the same,” she says, noting that its soundtrack, which features a variety of classic rock, traditional burlesques and country songs has remained popular with patrons.
While its acts are ever-evolving, there’s another aspect of “X Burlesque” that has remained largely unchanged over the years: its cast. In a city ever-hungry for fresh faces and young flesh, it’s a fact that distinguishes “X Burlesque” from its competitors.
The majority of the cast’s nine women have been a part of the show for at least three years, many longer; two of them, sisters Shakeera Onstead and Rasmeeka Voelkner, have been with the show for its full 10-year run.
“It’s not easy to find a girl who has ‘it.’ It’s the combination of having talent, looking good, knowing how to perform, and beyond that, there’s just a certain spark and personality our girls have to have,” Stabile explains of keeping her cast.
That loyalty goes both ways, and the dancers of “X Burlesque” agree that the close-knit sense of community also has fueled its longevity.
“Being in the show for 10 years has meant a great deal to me,” Voelkner says. “ 'X' has definitely given me the confidence to be myself, to become comfortable with my sexuality and express myself the way I want to. Angela and Matt and everybody have become part of my family.”
Onstead, who graduated from UNLV with a bachelor's degree in biology and a minor in chemistry, had planned to go into the medical field; while job hunting, her sister asked her to join “X Burlesque” to sub for an injured dancer. She never expected the temporary gig to turn into a 10-year career.
“It’s rare for a show to let the girls just be themselves. We can choose our own hairstyles, we can have tattoos. We can have our own dance style — it’s not about being militantly like the girl next to you,” she says.
It’s that freedom, along with the challenge of constantly performing new material, that the sisters say keeps the dancers — and their fans — loyal to the show.
“We have what we call ‘super fans’ who come to the show pretty regularly,” Onstead says. “There’s one guy who comes once a month and brings flowers and candy and offered to take us out to dinner. At first we thought it was creepy, but now we’re all good friends with him. I’m always surprised by the variety of people at the show. "There really is something for everyone. And, for me, that’s what really makes it special.”