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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Lucha VaVoom: A Singular Cinco De Mayo Sensation

“There's wrestlers, and little people in chicken suits, and burlesque dancers changing, and everybody's in their underwear. ... It's as close to vaudeville as I think I'll be able to get, unless I find a time machine.”

Latin culture is big in Los Angeles — and on the eve of Cinco de Mayo, one way some Angelenos are planning to celebrate is with a whole lot of Lucha VaVoom. That's the hybrid name for a vaudeville-flavored variety show that's become something of a local sensation — and whose producers are staging one of the larger Cinco de Mayo celebrations in L.A. It's got two key ingredients. First, Lucha: That refers to lucha libre, the distinctly Mexican brand of freestyle wrestling in which masked contenders fly through the air, bounce off the mat and sometimes spill into the crowd. "We get a little bit hurt out there," says a wrestler who goes by the ring name Cassandro. "It's wrestling. It's not a beauty salon."

Lucha VaVoom's wrestling matches are shorter than traditional bouts in Mexico, largely to make way for the other part of the show, namely the VaVoom: American-style burlesque dancers, wearing tassels, peacock feathers and in one case, a giant cupcake. There's a lot of Old Hollywood and striptease in the burlesque part of the show. The wrestlers and dancers take turns on the stage for the two-hour show. Emcees take turns, too, pumping up the crowd in English and Spanish.

"I love being backstage at the theater," says Dana Gould, one of the English-language emcees. He's a comedian and former writer for TV's The Simpsons. "There's wrestlers and little people in chicken suits, and burlesque dancers changing, and everybody's in their underwear. It's really old-time show business. It's as close to vaudeville as I think I'll be able to get, unless I find a time machine."

What's The Appeal? 'Three Very Primal Things'

The show's co-producer, Liz Fairbairn, agrees. "It incorporates three very primal things," she says. "People get blood-lust, and they get lust-lust, and they laugh." Fairbairn, who works a Hollywood day job as a special-effects costume designer, got the idea for Lucha VaVoom when she dated a Mexican wrestler. She followed him around the lucha libre circuit for the better part of a decade, and she thought an American audience would enjoy the spectacle. Co-producer Rita D'Albert brought in what she called "neo-burlesque," and Lucha VaVoom was born. The American following for Lucha VaVoom does include fans of more traditional lucha libre, but there are a lot thrill-seeking hipsters, rockers and artists in their audiences. It's a mixed crowd, mostly Latino and Anglo, that enjoys cheering heartily and drinking heavily.

That diverse and enthusiastic fan base earned Lucha VaVoom a similarly diverse array of corporate sponsors for the Cinco de Mayo celebration. Banners for El Jimador tequila fly alongside historically Anglo-oriented sponsors such as the L.A. Weekly newspaper, KROQ radio and Miller beer. Porfirio Rodriguez, a Milwaukee-based brand manager for Miller Lite, says events like Lucha VaVoom attract an important slice of the Hispanic market that he calls "biculturals." "They're living in more than one world," Rodriguez explains. "We have to talk to them where they live. If we don't, we run the risk of irrelevance."

Lucha VaVoom fan Nicholas Sauceda, who turned up for a recent Ventura show to snag a seat close to the stage, isn't so worried about the larger cultural and marketing implications of the show. He just loves the wrestling and the dancers. "It takes you away from all the things you have to worry about in life," he explains. Indeed: Lucha VaVoom bills what it offers as sexo y violencia — a tried-and-true hybrid for hard times. The troupe has already taken its act to Amsterdam and San Francisco; now, producers are looking to secure the L.A.-based outfit a second home.

In — where else? — Las Vegas.

-excerpt from NPR

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