By Annamarya Scaccia
Ever watch old clips of Bob Hope TV specials, where he and his flock of stunning Hollywood starlets would visit the troops and entertain them endlessly? Ever notice the look of bliss on the soldiers’ faces?
Frank Monahan has. It’s part of why the president of Rocket Science Productions — a Virginia-based production and talent management company — has organized the first-ever National Burlesque Festival for the Troops.
A series of burlesque performances taking place through July 10 by groups across the country, the festival will help raise money to ship For the Boys: Pinups for the Troops and For the Girls: Men Standing Strong to soldiers in need of a morale boost.
Produced by the 54-year-old Monahan and his art director, Meredith Hancock, For the Boys is a glossy, full-color tome of saucy female pinups submitted by more than 16 photographers. The live-model shots are re-creations of illustrations by famed American pinup artist Gil Elvgren, each of which was chosen by Monahan. And female troops — who make up almost 15 percent of today’s armed forces — will get to enjoy a bounty of deliciously ripped (and mostly shirtless) men in For the Girls. (Don’t ask, don’t tell: Pick up whatever turns you on at forthetroopsonline.com or during the festival.) So far, more than 3,000 copies have been sent to veterans hospitals and bases around the world, including the U.S., Germany, Japan, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Acts holding shows within the nine-day fest include the Pontani Sisters of New York, the Boston Babydolls, L.A.’s Lola LaBelle and Theatre d’Amour, the D.C. Gurly Show and Philly’s own Peek-A-Boo Revue, who will perform July 5 at Johnny Brenda’s.
But why exactly bring pinup art back? “There are plenty of people and organizations putting all kinds of care packages together for the troops,” says Monahan. “We recognized the need for a smile, for something unique and fun to look at.”
“I think it is a nice way to say, ‘We’re thinking of you,'” says Peek-A-Boo Revue director Lulu Lollipop (pictured). “We can’t be there in person, but we can send a little piece of ourselves in memory and respect of the days gone by where the troops had the full support of the American public.”
The festival also hopes to raise awareness of the continuing and evolving burlesque resurgence across the U.S. “I’m constantly amazed at the sense of empowerment that burlesque performers have and their passion to keep this art form alive is contagious,” says Monahan.
Adds Lollipop, “Burlesque is back, absolutely. Now it is time to educate people not only about the art form, but reintroduce them to sex and sexuality in a fun way.”
As for the future, Monahan hopes to make the National Burlesque Festival for the Troops an annual event because, as he puts it, men and women will always be stationed away from home whether or not a war is raging. “They will always need to get the feeling that folks at home support them,” he says, “and to take a short break from their tough existence to smile and appreciate beauty.”
Peek-A-Boo Revue and Rocket Science Productions Present: For the Troops | Sat., July 5, 10 p.m., $15 ($10 if wearing USO or pinup costume), Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 Frankford Ave., 215-739-9684, burlesquetroupes-fortroops.com