Kimberly Schafer, Monica Poulos, Hank Stampfl, Kristin Ewing & Amber Williams in Speakeasy Moderne - photo by Andrew Werner

Burlesque, the sensually dressed art form dating back to the 19th century, has long inspired after-dark entertainment for playful old souls who are young and adventurous at heart. The challenge in a place like New York City is not in finding a speakeasy experience that can temporarily transform a city night into a modern-day Cotton Club romp, but finding one that reflects millennium-era style and sensibility.

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Usually you’d run into the jazz-and-gin types grooving on the opposite side of town as say, champagne-popping clubsters. But the traveling cabaret company, Speakeasy Moderne, finds itself somewhere in between the two. Because when this comedic musical troupe throws a performance, not only is champagne on the menu…but if you aren’t coming to party, you may have possibly landed in the wrong era, so to speak.

Hosting just its second night in a series monthly performances at the Upper West Side Turkish restaurant-turned-cabaret, Stage 72, on March 28, Speakeasy Moderne showed guests why burlesque doesn’t have to be predictable nor raunchy to be good old-fashion fun.

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The night’s master of ceremonies, “Official Hank” Stampfl, pulls from his Broadway background to transition seamlessly between his roles as producer, host, and performer–all while belting out his very own show tune rendition of anthems like Broadway’s “Love for Sale” and Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been”. His unexpected comedy and dance routines are a joy throughout the show.

The rest of the cast fulfills the expectation of traditional cabaret – beautiful women dressed as flappers and 50s showgirls, delivering satisfying performances and giving you the sense that they genuinely just want to have a good time on stage. Even still, the audience is pleasantly engaged as the troupe moves through an upbeat variety ranging from the Andrews Sisters’ “Rum and Coca-Cola” to Adele’s “Rumor Has It”. The crowd is all the while encouraged to sing along to their favorite Beyonce and Duke Ellington choruses. Adding even more to the ambiance, guests are invited to arrive dressed in their favorite 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s cocktail wear.

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Where the stage talent becomes unmistakably evident is during the high-energy dance routines, choreographed in house by Kimberly “Kimmie Diva” Schafer. Backed by a band featuring Tim Lykins and pianist Matt Baker, the rotating cast of girls alternate from tap dancing to chair teasing–easily trading their flirty twirls for tango twists between songs. In an overall performance that is much less peepshow than anything else, onlookers are not easily distracted by barely-there costumes. Instead, Speakeasy Moderne replaces bawdy fantasies with authentic vaudeville theater. Both curious first-timers and stage enthusiasts will find something to appreciate. Those who are, understandably, looking for something more risqué will enjoy the performances by burlesque dancer Monica Poulos, who does not fail to turn up the heat a few degrees.

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Each month through July 25, Speakeasy Moderne will continue to whet its audience’s curiosity by way of guest performances. On this particular evening it was singer/songwriter Dina Fanai, who performed songs by Academy Award winners Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, as well as Billie Holiday and David Guetta. To close out she performed her own “Not Tomorrow Tonight” with Official Hank, Julia Burrows, and Ashley Alana Kennedy.

“We have an amazing cast that really enjoys performing together,” said dancer Kirstin Ewing, who was first introduced to the troupe by longtime friend, Stampfl. “This is our second week; we learned so much from the first performance and it will only get better from here.”

Speakeasy Moderne - POSTER  Hank Stampfl & Monica Poulos in Speakeasy Moderne - photo by Andrew Werner

Prices, which range from $15 to $100 for VIP seating and a champagne reception, each include tickets to the performance and party after the show. Stage 72 requires a two drink minimum and is cash-only for both the bar and waitress service. Signature cocktails, which are true to speakeasy form — strong and tasty — are generally within the $12-$15 range. Performances are held every last Thursday of the month.

- Tracey

Photos by Andrew Werner and by Socially Superlative

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