First things first, it's a family show.
Ha. No, not in the sense that Disney would produce a live action version on ice and the MPAA would give the wholesome and family approved G rating. It's burlesque! Or in this case boylesque. Still, Boy's Night Revue is a fantastic, family show. Let me explain.
I met the group on the Tuesday (before the next day's evening performance) at the aerial studio where they teach up-and-coming artists and practice their routines. Stepping down into the facility, located beneath an apartment building east of Midtown, I rounded the corner into a two-story expanse of gymnasium, hoops, scarves, ropes, and other circus equipment. Ben Franklin, the front of house for the gym and member of the revue, excitedly welcomed me to the gym and introduced me to everyone.
Ben Franklin: Yes that's his real name. A dapper beard and curled mustache reminiscent of Victorian era England adorned his smiling face. He is a hula-hoop connoisseur, the physical embodiment of every 90's child's dreams, with the ability to whip hoops around any appendage while simultaneously whipping his clothes off. If you blink, it appears to be a quasi-magic trick. He often performs alongside his spouse Josh Dean who co-owns the gym in which I was standing. See, a literal family.
Josh Dean: The other half of Aerial Arts duo, Josh is characterized by his short, blond mohawk, vine tattoo, bright smile. That smile usually dons his face when performing a quirky duo with Ben, a solo aerial act, or intermission dance in the audience. But his range isn't limited to circus whimsy. His introductory rope act to a haunting a cappella rendition of Dolly Parton's "Little Sparrow" gave me shivers reminiscent of those I had during Alison Krauss' musical performances in Cold Mountain.
Jason Mejias: He was my connection to the group through Guy Social and the last of the team I met as he was teaching during my arrival. Of the group members, he appeared the most reserved, characterized by watchful eyes and the occasional wry smile that cracked across his face, and like the rest of the troupe, his performances mirror his outward persona. He gives an emotive performance, a slow and sultry dance high up on ropes. It's the sort of seductive scene you might witness in a French avant-garde film.
Mr. Gorgeous: He enthusiastically introduced himself as a bottom and laughed through the rest of the greeting while the brief flash of confusion on my face turned to creases of amusement. I was quickly launched into Mr. Gorgeous's world of quick wit and charm. It's with this same warm charisma that he performs and thus became one of the best male burlesque performers in the country. If you had any doubts that a crab could be sexy, prepare to have your mind blown.
Eve Starr: I first met Eve out of drag save for some boots made for stomping. She's known as the Vixen of the Kitchen and in her own words, "Don't come for the queen with the microphone!" Despite being a self-described trouble maker and ability to tip-toe the line of friendly and bitchy, there is a motherly heart that grounds Eve. She took me under her wing during my visit with the group at the gym and at Uncle Charlie's Piano Bar for post-practice drinks where she was a fount of Broadway stories and Boy's Night history.
Cunio: If you ever encounter an old Romani woman who reads your palm and proceeds to tell you that a dark, handsome stranger will come into your life, there's a high probably that she's speaking of Cunio. If his striking cheekbones and a jaw line that could carve a turkey don't catch your eye, his voice will catch your ears. While I wasn't privileged to see him perform at the Revue, I did meet him the night before the show and listened to clips on Instagram. This clip, where Cunio sings "This Is a Man's World" and seamlessly blends his voice with a saxophone, is something of a marvel.
Now that you've been introduced to the members of the family, it's time for you to join. The Slipper Room, where the revue is held, is a cozy venue with a corner bar and tables that butt right up against the stage. Be sure to get there early if you'd like a seat, otherwise it's standing room or a seat wherever you can find a ledge. However, it never feels a burden to stand as your proximity to the performance throws you right into the show, with Josh tumbling down from the ceiling on silk scarves above your head or cake crumbs flying into the audience. Mr. Gorgeous dancing around with his face on a towel feels like the best friend you never knew you had and you can't help but cheer him on. He walked out in a crab outfit at one point and his first words to the audience were, "I'm a crab!" and everyone in the audience couldn't help but respond with something like, "Yeah man! You're a crab!" The audience was asked multiple times to come up on stage and hang with Eve or dance with Josh so it's almost a blessing to be on your feet. You never know when you'll have to spring to the front for a free drink.
The interaction with the audience is what makes this circus-lesque show special; the connection with the performers feels genuine, as if you could walk up to them after the show and head out to drinks like a family. These men literally bare themselves for your viewing but, the bare something beyond abs. Friendship, a genuine smile, and warmth of the heart.
The most striking moment of the night was song by Eve Starr, which (even though I have spent a short time in NYC) was the best drag performance I have witnessed in person or on television. Yes, including Drag Race. She sang to an eclectic medley of New York songs dedicated to her late drag mother. Pure heart and soul radiated with the sound waves throughout the room that left few eyes dry. But a drag queen isn't without her comedy and Eve rocketed the audience through ballads, broadway, and physical comedy to the point that I was laugh-choking on my tears.
Cirque du Soleil may be the first thing to pop into your mind when you hear "circus act," but such a spectacle will never achieve the close-knit community atmosphere of Boy's Night Revue. When I moved to New York from the Midwest, I was under the impression that it was a place that would make a person cold and hardened, but that, like Fargo's representation of the Midwest, was a myth. It's groups like Boy's Night Revue that add a cordial vibrancy to the city. If you are a first timer to burlesque or a seasoned queen, join the family. As the longest running all-male burlesque show in New York City, it's a necessary viewing and re-vue-ing.