‘Bra’ humbug! Midtown theater showcases a burlesque version of ‘A Christmas Carol’

Cast of burlesque version of A Christmas Carol
Top, L-R: MiscAllaneous DomTop, Corvette Le Face, James Tigger! Ferguson, Jo Weldon, Jonny Porkpie. Bottom: Cashlee Banks, Gal Friday
Photo by Bob Krasner

Ah, it’s that time again! December is here and it’s the season to roll out “A Christmas Carol.” But it wasn’t until now that you could enjoy a burlesque-style telling of the Dickensian tale that is definitely not geared toward the whole family.

Impresario Jonny Porkpie is currently presenting “Filthy Lucre,” his heartwarming, scantily clad rendering of the old standby, in Midtown. Of course, he’s made a few changes: the lead is a woman, Ebeneza Scrooge, who runs a strip joint; and Tiny Tim is so named in reference to a particularly minuscule part of his anatomy.

As you may have guessed, it’s a costume drama that frequently sheds its costumes.  

Porkpie has been involved in the business for quite some time — writing,  producing and performing in shows such as “Dead Sexy,” “Naked Planet,” “PRETENÇIÓN” and “The Naked Truth,” a burlesque game show. Ten years were also spent as a producer and emcee at The Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.

Although he’s got a degree in visual art from Brown and an MFA in Creative Writing for Children (seriously, we didn’t make that up), he’s enamored of an art form that has been creeping its way into the mainstream for awhile now.

“Burlesque is a performer driven art form,” Porkpie muses. “It’s hard not to love it.”

Ebeneza Scrooge as played by Gal FridayPhoto by Bob Krasner
Tigger!, Corvette, Jonny and Gal in rehearsal.Photo by Bob Krasner
Ebeneza Scrooge (Gal Friday) and Jacob Marley (Tigger!) in a pre-show picPhoto by Bob Krasner

He’s been coming up with scripted productions for some time, with structures that allow his cast to develop their own choreography. For instance, his “Naked Planet” was based on an old Star Trek episode, but his version involved a planet of burlesque performers.

“In every show we included the line, ‘That’s a pretty flimsy premise!'” he recounts. “It gave people permission to go along with the stupidity — there are only so many plots where people take off their clothes. I was amazed at how much the audience enjoyed the story.” 

Veteran performer Jo Weldon — who also happens to be Porkpie’s partner — is a fan of the format.

“I love being part of Jonny’s scripted shows because it’s so much fun to see burlesque presented in this unpredictable way,” she says. “The more usual ‘emcee introduces a few acts, does a bit, introduces a few more acts’ format is my first love, and I still love it. However, the added pleasure of the scripted format is that the audience gets to see how a burlesque act, in addition to having its own story arc, can also be part of a longer tale. Everyone’s ideas get to play along with each other instead of being isolated into their one-song themes.”

Tigger! Ferguson, in the role of Marley’s ghost, has a similar take.

“In a way, combining burlesque with ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a natural combination. Burlesque is storytelling after all,” Ferguson says. “It’s just that most most burlesque stories tend to involve the characters revealing their naked (or nearly naked) bodies…along with whatever else they choose to reveal. People watch countless burlesque acts in the same way they watch numerous different productions of ‘A Christmas Carol’. They know the basic plot but they want to see HOW that familiar story gets told. ‘Filthy Lucre’ is certain to be the nakedest and most irreverent version they’ve seen, but they’ll recognize the familiar characters & story. Plus a whole lot of extra jokes & nudity.”  

A post – performance Corvette Le Face, who played five (or so) rolesPhoto by Bob Krasner
Jonny Porkpie post-show, after embodying Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, the Narrator, Fezziwig and one or two othersPhoto by Bob Krasner
Ebeneza Scrooge, transformed, as portrayed by Gal FridayPhoto by Bob Krasner

The show was originally mounted in a very different version in 2009, with Porkpie as Marley and Tigger! as Tiny Tim, with special guests like Taylor Mac coming through on various nights.

“Ron Lasko from Spin Cycle suggested that we do it again and I thought, wow, that’s a deep cut! But if someone is still thinking about it after all these years, there must be a reason,” Porkpie says. 

Porkpie decided to rewrite the entire script and set about casting. He approached Gal Friday to play Scrooge, asking her, “How do you feel about doing stupid s#!t and learning a lot of lines?”

“I only do stupid s#!t!” she replied, sealing the deal. 

Unfortunately, the lines proved a bit of a problem on opening night, as a case of laryngitis prevented Gal Friday from showing off that part of her talent. Luckily, Cashlee Banks stepped up to the mic to deliver Scrooge’s lines and the show, as it must, went on.

MiscAllaneous DomTop as Ghost of Burlesque Yet To ComePhoto by Bob Krasner
Jonny Porkpie as Tiny Tim performing the show-stopping rap that explains his namePhoto by Bob Krasner
Cashlee Banks, left, provided the words for Gal Friday’s missing voicePhoto by Bob Krasner
Jo Weldon shows how it’s done as the Ghost of Neo-BurlesquePhoto by Bob Krasner
Marley’s Ghost ( Tigger!) reveals himself to Scrooge (Gal Friday)Photo by Bob Krasner

Whether they had lines or not, the cast served up a lively evening of entertainment.

“Not all burlesque performers want to be on the microphone,” admits Weldon. “Jonny tries to get everyone in the show to use their voice even if it’s just a line or two. I’m not used to acting so it’s always risky to give me lines, and yet I always end up enjoying it.”  

As for relevance, it’s an enduring tale and this (slightly twisted) version keeps its message intact. And, as Tigger! reminds us, “burlesque, like most art, responds to the culture around us.”

Tickets are available for upcoming performances here: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1183035.