Theater Review: THE EMPIRE STRIPS BACK (International Tour)

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by Tony Frankel on January 4, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


Forget about Broadway or the latest Marvel Comic movie. The fun, hip and cool burlesque Star Wars parody — which isn’t just for fans of the franchise — is the show to see live onstage. Since the show plans to head off on an international tour (and galaxies beyond), I made a visit last week in Hollywood. Surprised by the professionalism and awesome set pieces, I was truly won over. This is for audiences who just want to let go and party, and the abundance of cocktails didn’t hurt. At intermission, a woman in line for drinks said, “I never knew I had an inner lesbian until now.” Once I knocked back a few, I imagined Darth Vader saying, ““I find your lack of clothes undisturbing.”

No stranger to L.A., Burlesque started in the nineteenth century and combines comedy, camp, and adult entertainment with a lot of sexual innuendo. The Empire Strips Back, created by Russall S. Beattie, was originally conceived in Sydney, Australia in 2011 and traveled all over the continent. In 2016, The Huffington Post wrote an article that went viral, the show started playing elsewhere, and the rest is history. The raucous and fun experience may have originated Down Under, but it’s definitely a Hollywood show that will work in any city.

As you would gather, this vaudeville parody uses many familiar props and puppets, along with American pop music, to support sexy dancers with hot bodies as they subtly strip in choreographed numbers: A female Luke Skywalker twerks to Nicki Minaj as she hoses off her shuttlecraft; Princess Leia gyrates in a bikini to Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”; and sultry dancers swing their lightsabers accompanied by an amazingly scintillating light show. Expect sexy Stormtroopers, a Darth Vader that makes you want to join the dark side, and even a seductive bounty hunter, Boba Fett. Sure, it’s cheesecake, and the dancers here are more stag party than artistic Burlesque like Gypsy Rose Lee or Dita Von Teese, but it’s a blood-pumping good time, with terrific choreography by Lisa Toyer and James Barry. There is a little beefcake which comes with Jin Kim, who moves like a gymnast and practically steals the show in a number with a very hard-working Chewbacca that is worth the price of admission.

The crowd is heavily hipster heterosexual but not exclusively, with gay folk, couples and sci-fi nerds of all stripes, but, really, this is for anyone who likes a party atmosphere, which never flags for hours of light-speed ribaldry. The only thing that tanks is the “give it up for” emcee Eric Newton, sort of a warm-up act between numbers. He’s repetitive and his improv shtick is shockingly unfunny. Don’t worry, he’s not on for long. But as I say, the cocktails definitely helped get everyone riled up; by the second act, the screeching and yelling noticeably went up a few decibels. The 500-seat Montalbán Theatre, where I reviewed the show, is in the heart of Hollywood and it was packed to the rafters with an enthusiastically pleased crowd on New Year’s Day. The rebels have definitely landed. Follow them wherever they appear. May the torso be with you.

photos by Kevin Berne

The Empire Strips Back
Foster Entertainment and Neil Gooding Productionsabout 2 hours including a 15-minute intermission
now on an international national tour
in Atlanta, Georgia’s Pullman Yards / Porter Hall Nov 29, 2023 to Jan 21, 2024
for tickets, visit Empire Strips Back

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