Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Abominable Showman, August 12, 2012

Les Demimondes at SummerWorks

Love bites!
One of Canada’s most famous and celebrated sex workers, Sasha Von Bon Bon, is sure to titillate hipsters at Toronto’s SummerWorks Festival in her new play Les Demimondes. Plus, living legend Jackie Richardson dazzles as late blues legend Willie Mae Thornton in the musical Big Mama in Victoria
By Richard Burnett

I caught up with one of Canada’s most famous and celebrated sex workers, Sasha Von Bon Bon when she and her burlesque troupe The Scandelles headlined Montreal’s Edgy Women Festival in March with their critically-acclaimed cabaret show Les Demimondes. 

This week Sasha (a.k.a Alexandra Tigchelaar) brings Les Demimondes – which she co-created with Kitty Neptune – back to Toronto at the SummerWorks Theatre Festival which runs to August 19. 


Neon Nightz
The last time I saw Sasha perform was in Montreal when she wowed audiences at the Centaur Theatre in 2011 with her autobiographical Neon Nightz: “Sasha Van Bon Bon’s incisive and revelatory cabaret show about sex and salvation in Montreal strip clubs in the 1990s, is smart on the topic of what makes a saint and what makes a stripper,” critic Melora Koepke reviewed in HOUR magazine.

Demimondes is very different from Neon Nightz which followed a narrative of my own personal history with a few stupendous dance routines,” says Sasha. “Les Demimondes is a personal story too – bit it’s more about other sex workers’ stories, their relationship with the arts, media and law, primarily in North America. I do the talking [onstage] while [other] amazing women come onstage and dance it out.”

How has Sasha – a longtime controversial alt-weekly sex columnist (in 2005 she was even demonized after writing one column offering resources in support of a couple’s desire to explore beastiality) – how has she weathered the personal attacks over the years?

“Have people said nasty things to your face?” I ask.

“What do you think, you big fat homo!” Sasha replies heartily, alluding to the personal attacks and death threats I got from readers during the 15-year run of my syndicated gay column Three Dollar Bill.

Les Demimondes
Then Sasha gets serious: “In my 20s it was very upsetting because you launch yourself into the world of social pariah and next thing you know everyone has an opinion about you, and maybe you are not able to protect yourself so much. So you develop a thick skin and become more articulate.

“I grew a thick skin but I take it off [when I perform onstage]. I had no choice [because] I am always vulnerable onstage. And very happy. Performing onstage is a nice comforting wall, standing in front of people telling them complicated stories about your history without having them get up and whip s–t at you. But I’ve never been the kind of sex worker that calmly engages people. I’m the one screaming and kicking them in the crotch!”

And Sasha says she’s not quitting any time soon. “Oh my God, you’re gonna have to pry my cold, dead, fat old legs off that stage!”

Les Demimondes multimedia performance at Toronto’s SummerWorks Festival, August 12 to 19. Duration: 75 minutes. Click here for more details and tickets at the official Summerworks website.

Click here for the official Scandelles website.



Bugs and Jackie
I have long said that Montreal soul singer Kim Richardson and her mom Jackie Richardson are the Whitney and Cissy Houston of Canada. 

These ladies can sang.

Kim proved it yet again at a recent R’n’B revue at Le Balcon, an 80-seat dinner-theatre cabaret in Old Montreal. She out-sang even Whitney chop-for-chop on I’m Every Woman.

“Can you hear me, Richard!” Kim asked me from the stage mid-song.

“I sure can!” I replied as I was dancing at the back of the theatre.

Kim’s mom is the great Jackie Richardson, nothing less than a living legend who – if you’re lucky enough to live in Victoria – you can see portray the late blues legend Big Mama Thornton in the musical Big Mama at Victoria’s Belfry theatre until August 19.

Or you can check out Richardson reprise the role when Big Mama closes the NAC English Theatre’s 2012-2013 season, when the musical headlines the National Arts Centre in Ottawa April 24 - May 11, 2013.

“Big Mama drank her gin with milk,” legendary Montreal impresario Doudou Boicel told me over drinks (rum and ginger) at his home one afternoon.

Big Mama
Thornton was a regular headliner at Boicel’s Rising Sun Celebrity Jazz Club in Montreal back when that club was one the of the top two or three jazz and blues nightclubs in North America. In fact, the hard-drinking Thornton headlined there pretty much up until her final days. She died on July 25, 1984, at the age of 58.

Thornton remained bitter right to the end about how she and Johnny Otis were never properly credited for Hound Dog. “I’ve been singing before Elvis was even born,” she once famously quipped. “He makes a million and all this jive because his face is different from mine.” 


So I’ll sign off with one last anecdote: Back in 1977 on the Sassy Mama album (Montreal-based Just a Memory Records), you can hear Big Mama sing her song Ball and Chain in a live set recorded at the Rising Sun. You can hear her tell her band to do the song “B.B. King-style,” then hear her a minute later chastise her guitarist Phil Guy (the late brother of Buddy Guy) for soloing too long. 


As anyone who ever saw Thornton perform live will attest – as I can – Thornton may not have gotten her due in life, but no one messed with Big Mama on stage.


Click here for my star-studded tribute to Big Mama Thornton, with BB King, Doudou Boicel and Montreal’s Godfather of the Blues, Stephen Barry.

Jackie Richardson stars in Big Mama at Victoria's Belfry theatre until August 19 and then at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa April 24 - May 11, 2013.

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