I was told by a publicist that even the beignets are naughty. Yes, the beignets. Apparently, sugary dough can be a tease at a cabaret and burlesque show. As I walked to the Can Can's popular winter show, Wonderland, I wondered: How can anything be sexy when everything is sexy? I was determined to find out.
Located underneath one of Seattle's busiest corners, near the Public Market Center sign, the Can Can feels like a relic of Seattle's past. At least one mom near my table whispered, "It's like one of those speakeasies," and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have the same thought. The venue's vibe is laid on thick—exposed overhead wood, dark furniture, brothel lighting. Waiters sneak in and out of impossibly tiny aisles to take patrons' absinthe orders. It's the perfect tourist trap—totally manufactured, but a distant relative could visit and be able to confidently say, "This is so Seattle."
Wonderland is divided into three short acts that make up a brisk 90-minute show. Hosted by the exceedingly charismatic JonnyBoy (Jonathan Betchtel), each act gets progressively naughtier, although the most scandalous thing an audience member sees is a jock-strapped ass and bare tits covered by pasties. The show has danger, but it's found in the cancan lines that occur mere feet from audience members' dinner salads. During the third act, JonnyBoy and Fair Elise (Elise Landles) perform an athletic duet that—when I saw it—nearly knocked over a birthday girl's wine glass. But it didn't. Everyone whooped.
The Can Can's value comes from its performers. Suga Shay (Shay Jenkins) has a standout solo involving a chiffon cloak and a hidden backstage fan. It's ethereal and pure stage magic. It's also very reminiscent of Kate Bush's "Babooshka" music video. Another notable number comes from Le Minx (Fiona Pepe), when she mixes burlesque and aerial arts to a Beyoncé and Andre 3000 cover of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black." Le Minx is a performer who possesses the unique ability to let the audience in on only 20 percent of what she's feeling. The rest is a mystery. (This is the reason people love Nicole Kidman.)
One peculiar part of Wonderland is the treatment of its fifth performer, Joell (Joel Domenico). Joell is the gay counterpart to mom eye-candy JonnyBoy. While JonnyBoy and the three female performers are sexualized in serious ways, Joell is sexualized mostly for laughs. Homosexuality is a prop, which is probably more reflective of the very straight audience than any homophobia on the producers' part. But it didn't really bother me, because cabaret is on the whole pretty gay.
As my boyfriend and I left the Can Can, I asked him if he liked the beignets. He recently moved to Seattle from New Orleans, so he would be a good judge. "Oh my god," he said. "They were better than Cafe du Monde." A high compliment. But were they naughty? He frowned. "Only white people call food naughty."