What is the essence of attraction? As you might imagine, responses vary. Sure, there are common themes, but just as we all have our own preferences food, art, literature and film, sexual attraction is as unique as our DNA.
Madeline Feldman, producer at Reno’s Prestige Productions, was intrigued by this essential, singular facet of human nature, and last year began work on addressing it in a new show. After more than a year of pre-production, she and co-producer Dreu Murin decided they’d go straight to the source.
“We got a camera crew and went around Reno and surrounding cities, interviewed folks on the street, in stores, and in bars, and we asked them,” Feldman said. “Then we built a show around these people’s answers, and we actually play some of the interviews in the show.”
The by-product of this unusual focus group research is “Essence,” a high-energy, sexy, 21-and-older variety show, which runs Saturdays at 10 p.m. at Harrah’s Sammy’s Showroom, with a special Valentine’s Day show on Feb. 14. Tickets are available at the box office, or at bit.ly/essencereno. Online buyers can enter the code VIP20 to receive a 20-percent discount.
“Essence” features a relatively small troupe of six performers. It’s a close-knit unit including a comedic host, dancers, aerialists and singers. On its face, the show looks like a burlesque, which brings to mind a teasing, bawdy revue with scantily-clad mostly female dancers in feather-laden headdresses. And while the show borrows ingredients from this common stew, Feldman and Murin fold in new layers of sophisticated choreography, humor and music. The result is something unique.
“I wanted to up the ante and do something different, and be as weird and innovative as possible, with an underlying message,” Feldman said. “It’s human and it’s true. You wonder your whole life why people are attracted to one another, so I think exploring the essence of attraction is just an all-around really cool adventure, and I’m really happy with the product.”
The biggest surprise to this reporter was learning that the show contains a kind of secret message, the nature of which nobody was willing to share.
“There is a reveal, but I cannot give it away!” dancer Abrie Parrish said. “I encourage people to be super open-minded, and when they do find out what it’s about, they’re going to be floored and loving it.”
Parrish has been with Prestige since its inception about five years ago. She started out slowly, appearing in only two or three numbers in the company’s early shows.
“She’s completely evolved and is now a lead, a rock star,” Feldman said. “She’s heading off to Vegas after this contract and further her career. She wants to be on the Strip. That’s kind of the top tier of showgirl life. Because in Vegas, shows don’t close, they run for four years straight. They have the market to support that. So, for a dancer, they’re able to do that full-time.”
Another surprise about Essence is one of its performers is akin to a walk-on, superstar athlete.
“When I met [Raphael Rodriquez, the show’s lone male dancer], I was teaching at a dance studio and I saw this guy in the next room just freestyling,” Feldman said. “I thought, I need to have him in my life. I went up and hired him on the spot. He’d never taken a class, and was completely self-taught from YouTube videos. And now he teaches at a bunch of studios in the area, and he actually choreographed a couple of numbers in the show. It’s very uncommon for someone who hasn’t been working for years and years to be working professionally. He’s insanely talented.”
Dancer/choreographer Rodriquez said he’s happy with how Essence has blossomed these past months, attributing the show’s success to its tight-knit cast, most of whom worked together in Prestige’s previous show, Decadence. As will happen when a group of dancers works together consistently, the individuals are becoming intuitive, much like a long-married couple finishing each other’s sentences.
“I think everyone’s just on top of their game,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just a very positive and fun experience for me.”
“We’re at the point where we know the choreography, we know the steps,” she said. “We don’t have to think about that stuff anymore. The creative process of performance and all of that fun stuff is really happening now.”
Essence’s first-time host, who also dances and sings, is Kira McGlothen.
“She’s heaven,” Feldman said. “No joke. We’ve had audience members say ‘If I couldn’t see her, I’d think she was Beyoncé.’ And that is a bold statement. She is amazing.”
McGlothen’s new gig came about after an unexpected turn at a previous show resulted in having some time to fill.
“I just threw her a mic, and said, ‘Go talk to the audience,’” Feldman said. “I had no idea how that would turn out, and she just lit up. She’s such a natural; She’s so witty; She was hilarious and had everyone rolling. So, this year she’s taking on the host role as well, and she dances. She’s the whole package for sure.”
The hope is to travel the show, Feldman said, and plans are afoot to take a second cast to a showroom at Lake Tahoe. For now though, Essence will hold steady at Harrah’s.
“Burlesque is sexy,” Feldman said, “but you don’t necessarily walk away with a warm and fuzzy feeling. With this show, there are some lasting impacts, rather than just a great night at the show. We tried to put some sentiments in it, some things that are important to us. It’s a good one. It’s a blast.”