The cast of "Va Va Vunderland" | Photo by Joe Mays
The cast of “Va Va Vunderland” | Photo by Joe Mays

You don’t have to be a die-hard fan of the Va Va Vixens to have noticed their preoccupation with the letter V.

“About five years ago, after one of the shows, we were all hanging out and it was, like, all the V names started pouring out,” Va Va artistic director Lisa Frye tells Insider. During this brainstorming session, Frye and the other Vixens present came up with ideas for many of the shows they’ve performed the last several years. “’Va Va Vunderland’ was one of the ones we were, like, ‘Ooooooooh.’”

Since then, Frye and the rest of Louisville’s most celebrated burlesque troupe have been waiting to create their take on Alice’s adventures. “For years we held off, because it was gonna be such a big undertaking,’’ says Frye.

Christen Malone and Victoria Baumgarten | Photo by Joe Mays
Christen Malone and Victoria Baumgarten | Photo by Joe Mays

Louisville will finally get a chance to travel through the Va Va’s looking glass starting this weekend. Frye says fans can look forward to a unique take on Lewis Carroll’s familiar characters. “It’s not ‘Wonderland,’ it’s ‘Vunderland,’” she adds.

Frye knows people have high expectations for these characters, so instead of telling the same story all over again, she went in a new direction. “That story’s been done a lot, and it’s very near and dear to a lot of people’s hearts. I didn’t want to mess with that. I would rather play with the characters and use them in a different way,” she says.

Despite having a more complicated story and having dancers and performers deal with deeper, more developed characters, Frye seems confident they can pull it off.

Although ‘Va Va Vunderland’ will be performed at Headliners Music Hall, Frye and the rest of the Vixens prepped for rehearsal at Art Sanctuary. Dancers were warming up, sewing costumes and fine-tuning small moments and movements from the show. The focus and determination on display made it clear that these burlesque performers have far greater assets than their pretty faces and pleasing forms.

One such performer is Deanna Gillispie, who joined Frye during her interview with Insider. Gillispie has been performing with the Vixens since she graduated from college, and has been dancing her whole life. She’ll be performing the role of Alice and is also responsible for a good bit of the choreography that’ll be on display in this show.

“It varies from show to show how much (choreography) any one of us does, but I’d say there is probably about five or six of us that choreograph the majority of the routines in our shows,” says Gillispie. The choreographers frequently work together. “There’s always other people who have hands in a number, or give us feedback or advice.” She paused to reflect on that process, and then laughed, adding, “Sometimes it’s really collaborative, but sometimes it’s a dictatorship.”

Victoria Baumgarten | Photo by Joe Mays
Victoria Baumgarten | Photo by Joe Mays

While Gillispie’s Alice will star in quite a few numbers, the new story will pit her against her twin, Malice, portrayed by Vixens regular Victoria Baumgarten. The twins are pawns in a scheme hatched by the Mad Hatter, who’s trying to wrest control of Vunderland from its rightful rulers, the Red and White Queens.

It sounds like a complex, plot-driven story. Like much of the choreography, it’s a group effort.

“We do a lot of brainstorming, a lot of collaboration with all of the people, and then it goes into a smaller group, and it will still sometimes even change a little bit as we go,” says Frye. Collaboration is key with the Vixens, and Frye mentions it several times throughout the interview. “Everybody has to be adaptive, and everybody has to work together.”

Victoria Baumgarten and Deanna Gillispie | Photo by Joe Mays
Victoria Baumgarten and Deanna Gillispie | Photo by Joe Mays

Because of the heavier focus on storytelling, many of the performers are getting to brush up their acting skills. In past shows, outside of a narrator or emcee, most of the Vixens changed characters with each number, but in ‘Vunderland,’ the ladies and gents are sticking to one persona each.

“It’s really different than anything we’ve done before, especially with staying in the same character,” says Gillispie. “Theres a lot more character development; it definitely makes it a deeper show.”

“Va Va Vunderland” runs Feb. 5-6, 12-13 and 19-20 at Headliners, located at 1386 Lexington Road. Showtime is 8 p.m., and tickets range from $20-$35.

Eli Keel is “pretty much” a Louisville native. You may have seen him around town reading poetry, short stories, dancing or acting. He’s a passionate locavore, so you may have also seen him stuffing his face at one of Louisville’s amazing restaurants. When he isn’t too busy writing short stories, he blogs at amanwalksintoablog.wordpress.com.


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