Café Cleopatra’s burlesque extravaganza brings back Vaudeville with the Candyass Cabaret
The corner of Ste. Catherine and St. Laurent on Friday night was a scene depicting a pseudo David and Goliath struggle.
On one side, Club Soda, with its bright white lights and bold, black letters promoted the closing night of the highly anticipated Montreal Burlesque Festival. Right across, Café Cleopatra, its trademark black sign hidden under construction and its secondary sign outlined by many a dead or missing light bulb, had a mock police officer and an associate distributing flyers that promoted the night’s offering: the Candyass Cabaret.
To the untrained eye, it looked like a case of poor timing. The patrons of the smaller show know otherwise.
“Other burlesque shows will only have one or two variety acts. When you come to Candyass, you don’t know what to expect,” said Marianne Trenka, one of the performers, otherwise known as Lady Hoops. Among the variety of acts that explored the theme of b-movies were burlesque, belly dancing, hula-hoop dance and singing. “I look for people who can bring the show a vaudeville flavour,” said Velma Candyass, the show’s producer.
In the spirit of Halloween, dismembered plastic limbs decorated the edge of the stage, skulls hung from the stage curtains embellished with spider webs, and the DJ dressed up as Freddy from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Candyass performed an act inspired by the prom scene in Carrie, the 1976 movie adaptation of Stephen King’s titular novel. Instead of pig’s blood and mass murder, Candyass opted for red confetti and a unique death, but not before using her telekinetic powers to strip her victim down to her underwear.
The Candyass Cabaret has been showcasing vaudeville, burlesque and drag inspired acts for almost three years as a completely independent production. “I’m ambivalent about government funding because I believe that you should be able to produce a show and have people want to come and pay money to see it, rather than needing it subsidized in order to run it,” said Candyass, who knows first-hand that it’s easier said than done. Unlike the stories bartenders tell of crowded venues week after week, people today have YouTube, T.V. and the Internet—they are no longer used to seeing live shows and spending money to support local artists, letting them explore their acts, said Candyass.
As the production has a role in preserving by-gone vaudeville entertainment, so does the venue in preserving a by-gone culture. Café Cleopatra is important for Candyass, who was involved in saving it from the city and developers, because it’s a testament to Montreal’s vibrant history. “Now, it’s not the same street life as that seen up to the 1960s, but [St. Laurent Street] is really the heart of Montreal, and there’s a lot of significance to keeping the flavour of the street.” In 1996, the street was granted historical status by the federal government.
For upcoming shows, Candyass said that there would be more experimental cabaret and challenging themes for the artists.
The Candyass Cabaret is scheduled every third Friday of the month.