When you try out for the Lipstick Lovelies, act sassy

Section: Life - Scene,  Page: D1

Date: Friday, December 9, 2005

The fire-eater who set her bare bosom aflame in a bar at 11:30 on a Sunday morning was not invited to become a member of the Lipstick Lovelies. Neither was the baton-twirler. The former went too far for the local burlesque troupe; the latter, not far enough.

"We're definitely sexy and naughty and a little dirty, but we're not raunchy," says Nina Tucciarelli, 32, director and co-founder of the Lipstick Lovelies. "We're more cabaret comedy and music than striptease. A new girl would have to be able to fit in with that." Tucciarelli and other members of the Lovelies held auditions last month, seeking new performers for the troupe's holiday show, titled "A Lovely Christmas" and set to be performed tonight and Saturday at the Lovelies' home base, Tess' Lark Tavern in Albany.

The show features the Lovelies' signature blend of bump 'n' grind, sparkly costumes, familiar songs some sung basically straight, others with lyrics and titles tweaked into single-, double- and triple-entendres. Thus "Winter Wonderland" becomes "Drunken Oblivion," "Macho Man" observes Hanukkah as "Matzoh Man," and the already comic "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" is goosed a few more degrees, thanks to a verb change.

"It's all in good fun, but it is definitely adult humor," says Tucciarelli.

A note on the audition form filled out by the seven would-be Lovelies at last month's auditions warned "The Lipstick Lovelies typically wear very feminine but revealing costumes (in other words, you will be wearing articles that resemble underwear)."

The Lovelies are part of the New Burlesque, a movement that grew out of two other retro cultural trends: the resurgent interest in swing music and, later, the popularity of hip lounges. All look to update earlier forms of entertainment with contemporary sensibilities. A Lovelies show fuses a celebration of the female form through the art of the striptease with humor that is by turns comic, goofy and campy. Thus a gal in a sexy outfit storming through Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High" may be followed by the troupe's two male members singing a reworded version of Steve Miller's "Abracadabra" that casts them as Vegas showmen Siegfried & Roy.

"Everyone has to have a strong personality onstage and also be very versatile, too," says Tucciarelli. "They need to be sexy in one number and don a wig and be a cartoony character in the next," she says. "We do so many different styles."

Tucciarelli, who lives in Niverville, Columbia County, founded the Lipstick Lovelies in early 2003, after she and a friend, Kacey Quirk, 30, watched a TV documentary about the renewed interest in burlesque.

"We both have a background in dance and musical theater, so we figured this was something we could do and make our own," Tucciarelli says. She, Quirk and the troupe they assembled first performed in June of that year at the Hudson River Theater in Hudson, which remained the Lovelies' home until the relocation to the Lark Tavern in October. The troupe now rehearses there twice a week and schedules shows generally every other month that are always performed to raucously appreciative sellout crowds.

"Hudson is very artsy, but there's not a lot of nightlife," says Tucciarelli, explaining the troupe's move. "The first Albany show (in July) was packed with such a diverse audience; it just felt like the right fit."

Price of success

The tavern's owner, Tess Collins, underplays her efforts to bring the Lovelies to Albany when she says, simply, "I thought this would be good for them and for my customers." Collins in fact built the Lovelies a stage and runway in the Lark Tavern's back room. Audience demand proved so strong that the Lovelies added a second performance, on Fridays, and began charging a nominal fee for their Thursday-night dress rehearsals.

Tucciarelli says she has begun to make a little bit of money from the troupe, but she still has a long way to go to recoup her investment.

"I spent my entire life savings on the first show," she says $2,500 for props and the costumes she makes herself. Production costs run to $1,000 or $1,500 for each new show, but rising attendance has enabled troupe members to receive pay increases for successive performances. All still work day jobs.

During last month's auditions, the company's singer-dancers taught seven hopefuls a routine choreographed to the thrumming theme to "Peter Gunn." After Sarah Pollack, a Lovely from Stuyvesant, Columbia County, ran through the steps with the first group of candidates, she sat to watch them dance by themselves.

"Attitude, girls!" Pollack called out. "Even if you don't know it, make me think you do!"

"Work it!" shouted Quirk. "Make it up if you have to, but make it look good. When there's (breasts) flying, nobody notices if it's exactly right."

Comedic appreciation

The Lovelies as an ensemble have a warm, playful rapport among themselves, and the reaction they generate from most audience members tends to be enthusiastic appreciation, not leering lasciviousness.

"It's very classy, more comedic and fun than racy," says the newest Lovely, Erin Hamm, who was invited to be a full member of the troupe after the auditions. (A few others who tried out alongside Hamm will perform on a more limited basis, as occasional dancers or vocal soloists.)

Hamm, a 23-year-old state worker from Watervliet, was familiar with the Lovelies through a family connection and past shows, and wanted to get back into the dancing and performing she'd left behind in recent years. In "A Lovely Christmas," she does a dance solo during "Run, Run, Rudolph" and participates in ensemble numbers and comedy skits.

"It was a lot to pick up on very quickly, but, for me, when I have the pressure of knowing I'm going to do it in front of an audience in a very short time, I like to meet that challenge," Hamm says.

"I'm a little nervous about having my family there, but they're supportive, and we're all very theatrical. I think it's going to be exciting."

Steve Barnes can be reached at 454-5489 or by e-mail at

IT'S SHOWTIME ``A LOVELY CHRISTMAS'' Burlesque revue performed by The Lipstick Lovelies When: 9:30 tonight; 8 p.m. SaturdayWhere: Tess' Lark Tavern, 453 Madison Ave., AlbanyTickets: $15 at the door; no advance reservationsInfo: 463-7875;