Known as the gal with the mouth of a sailor and the voice of an angel, Denver’s Cora Vette talks Texas Burlesque Festival, sparkly vinyl, Reefer Mania, drag queens, body image and vintage rockabilly.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You’re one of the producers of BurlyCute. Please tell us about how BurlyCute got started and what’s planned for the future.
I come from a theater background and I think everything I do will have an element of musical theater to it. Rather than try to avoid it, I try to incorporate singing and dancing into burlesque whenever I can. When I put together my first show it was cast from singer/dancers who had never done burlesque. It was called “Leadville Or BUST!” and it was actually a burlesque that pre-dated the striptease. So, I think the theater element has evolved naturally in our shows (which have focused more and more on the striptease element). Everyone who works with us in BurlyCute is very multi-talented and theatrical. I believe there is a place for everything. We have had singing, tap dancing, pointe work, mimes, fan dances, crazy characters and even the occasional furry creature. I think it makes shows more fun when you never know what to expect. I also always try to add a song or piece that is heartfelt and grabs the audience on a personal level…plus (in the words of Satan’s Angel) I am “totally cornball”. I just can’t help it.
Last summer BurlyCute produced “Reefer Mania: Denver’s Gone to Pot!” a ‘vaudevillesque pot opera.’ You stated in The Denver Daily News that it was hard to get businesses to keep posters up for the show due to the current controversy around marijuana. You were quoted saying, “suddenly I’m spearheading something that’s either really awesome, or really horrible.” Now that it’s said and done, was it awesome, horrible or a little of both?
It was both. We produced that show in a city run venue and were unprepared for the challenges that that produced. In a nutshell, Reefer Mania was basically a burlesque musical revue of vintage songs about marijuana. In Denver, medical marijuana is now big business and I thought it would be an easy hit with how prevalent “pot culture” is in Colorado. What I underestimated was that people were reluctant to be associated on one side or the other of this hotly debated business. Store and restaurant owners would take our posters down for fear of being labeled pro-marijuana. Honestly, we got more publicity than I ever expected and people were always asking me what side I was taking and my answer was always the same. I am just taking the side of the music. The songs featured and danced to in Reefer Mania were all written in the 1920s-1940s. Oddly enough, most of them were written during a time when marijuana was legal but alcohol was not.
Reefer Mania was a blast and a half and we are currently working on a version 2.0 that will incorporate even more burlesque. We kept the original version pretty PG for fear of offending the theater. This time it will be produced in April on 4/20 at Bender’s Tavern where it probably should have been the first time. Reefer Mania Burlesque Version 2.0 (Naughtier and more Neked)
I heard that you are releasing a CD soon. Can you tell us more?
I am releasing a jazz CD next month called “Smoking Reefers”. It features many of the songs from Reefer Mania only bigger and with more musicians. It is really amazing how this has all come together. The music was done by David Nehls who is a theatrical composer and the Music Director of the Arvada Center. He called in some favors and got some awesome musicians to record on this project. So now, instead of just a piano like we had for the show, we have piano, cello, clarinet, drums, saxophone etc. and the CD is engineered by Zac Miller who is an amazing guy! It was just wonderful to see how many people donated their time to create a modern recording of this vintage music. I will be eternally grateful.
We’re so delighted to hear that you’re one of the emcees for the Texas Burlesque Festival! Please tell us what the audience should expect from you when you’re on the mic.
Haha! I never know! Honestly, I rarely have any clue what I am going to do until I get out onstage. My head is full of dirty jokes and I love playing off the crowd’s energy. There is NOTHING like a full house in another city to get my blood pumping! I am sure I will sing a few numbers. I usually sing at least 3 songs in a big show. Usually one to open the show, one somewhere in the middle to cover up a big setup and one near the end. I don’t know exactly how TBF will be just yet but I will definitely bring my whole 2 suitcases full of sparkle vinyl and tricks. Hmmm…maybe I will bring Dolly along. I do a pretty mean Jolene/9 to 5 number that is pretty crazy and fun. I am really excited to come back to Austin! I am realizing that there is a LOT of stuff that I want to be involved in that is happening in Texas!!
Your rockabilly band, Cora Vette and the Vinyl Tops, incorporates vintage rockabilly and burlesque. I’d love to hear more about that.
I have a rockabilly trio in Denver called Cora Vette and the Vinyl Tops that focuses on vintage female rockabilly and blues songs. I usually involve a couple of the BurlyCuties whom I jokingly refer to as my “Wrenches”. They wear mechanics overalls to start and of course as the night wears on appear in less and less (venue appropriate of course). I am a big fan of Wanda Jackson, Janis Martin, Charlene Arthur, Julia Lee and tons of other women who were singing songs way ahead of their time. It is pretty amazing the music that these ladies were making! I think it deserves to be heard again. Plus, pretty dancing girls never hurt either…
In addition to your roles in production and performance, you’ve also been busy working on a vintage reproduction clothing line called Slenderette. Tell us more about your involvement in this project.
Well, people may know that I make all my own costumes. I was trying to figure out what my burlesque name would be and I remembered that Vivenne VaVoom (who also lives in Denver) had mentioned that she had a bunch of vintage sparkle vinyl in her basement that someone had given her when their classic car upholstery shop closed and Cora Vette was born…I get so many inquiries about my sewing that I started branching out and making chorus girl costumes in vintage patterns and other random pieces that I was making for fun. I was thinking of making some custom order dresses when I ran across a few patterns called “Half Size Slenderettes”. They were basically vintage petite sizes (not patterns to make you appear more slender as is the common incorrect opinion). I decided then and there that I loved that word and wanted to use it to describe the vintage pinup clothes that I wanted to make. The company is still in the beginning stages but I have made a few and have had many people asking about ordering one. Hopefully “Slenderette” will be making a bigger debut soon. But, for now, you can just find me on Facebook if you are interested.
You performed as Tanya in Mamma Mia! at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for three years, performing to more than one million guests during that time. Were you performing burlesque before your tenure as Tanya, or did you get into that after coming back to Denver?
I think every big part I have had in theater has had an over-the-top element of comedy and glamour. My part as Tanya in Mamma Mia was the comic role of a wealthy glamorous sex pot. So, glamour and comedy have always been a big part of my career. But, I didn’t officially get into burlesque until I came back to Denver and found out that there were really very few jobs in theater. I have my Actor’s Equity Association union card and I cannot work in theaters that don’t offer union contracts. I have a pension that I don’t want to lose by dropping my union membership so I was looking for performing outlets that would fall outside of legitimate theater. Illegitimate theater suits me to a “T”! I am creatively more happy than I have ever been! It is a wonderful thing to be able to do whatever you want to do. I don’t have a director telling me how to deliver my lines. Plus, I have learned that when I am just being my crazy self that I am actually funny…when someone tells me to be funny…I think too much and am just not funny!
What’s next for Cora Vette?
I have learned that just when I think I know what is next, I am wrong! Recently, I started performing in a weekly drag show called “Tucked” at Charlie’s Denver so frequently I am mistaken for a Drag Queen. (Turns out that, other than the obvious, there is not that big of a difference between a Drag Queen and a Burlesque Queen. They are both awesomely outrageous off-the-wall glamorous characters).
I will be hosting lots of festivals in the coming year. Texas Burlesque Festival, Show Me Burlesque in St. Louis, the 3rd Annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival and hopefully many others. I hope to be able to travel more this year. Plus, I have just started a new job as a bartender at this cool retro little bar in Denver called…what else?…The Stingray Lounge. So if you are coming through Denver come to the Stingray and let me make you a drink!
Anything you’d like to add?
Check out my website www.CoraVette.com for information and links to all my madness! A huge thank you to all the ladies of BurlyCute for all their creative contributions. Plus, thanks to my Co-Producer whom we refer to as “Misther Cellophane” because he handles the tech and if he is doing his job right, “you can look right through him, walk right by him, and never know he’s there.”
And – I would like to add that my association with the burlesque community has given me back something that I lost in “theater”. A positive body image. I struggled for YEARS with my weight (as most actresses do). I was put on my first theater diet at 19, tried crash dieting, excessive exercising and just about anything I could think of to beat the curves off my body. I remember one time, during Mamma Mia, the director described me as “voluptuous”. I was horrified. Now, thanks to burlesque, I am proud. Thank you for that…XOXO Cora Vette