“Burlesque” is a showcase for Christina Aguilera, who’s both a successful singer and dancer (“Dancing With The Stars”) in her own right, but it also features a couple of surprisingly powerful numbers from the ageless Cher, whose unique voice still has that husky, resonant quality that has made her a star for … five decades now? And yes, we catch the irony that the name of her big opening number is “You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me.”
Naturally, there’s some excuse for a plot, one which has been worked over so many times it’s a caricature: country girl (from someplace in Iowa) comes to the big city (L.A.) to make a name for herself, and winds up waitressing in a burlesque club. No big surprise there. The owner of the club, Tess (Cher) is a former dancer who still takes the stage sometimes, but mostly she just runs the club, uncomfortably, with her ex (Peter Gallagher) who still holds a half-interest (and is less than half-interested in keeping the club open). Tess’ sidekick is Sean (Stanley Tucci), the obligatory gay stage manager who helps all the girls with their costumes, walks freely in and out while they’re dressing, and sometimes referees the occasional catfight.
Our wide-eyed winsome newcomer, Ali (Aguilera), can’t even get an audition. But she just picks up a drink tray from the bar one night, determined to work there, anyway, and learns the dance routines vicariously, and when one of the dancers is suddenly sick, she gets her big chance. But they all work on a lip-sync kind of format, Tess being convinced that “they don’t want to hear you, they want to see you.” (Read: They want to see you writhe rhythmically on the stage in a skimpy leotard.) Meanwhile, Ali has a crush on the bartender, Jack (Cam Gigandet), who’s supposed to have a fiancée, living far away, but that doesn’t stop Ali and Jack from moving in together, naturally on a platonic basis, just to share expenses, you know, and we all know where this is headed.
Eventually, of course, Ali gets her big chance to sing, and even the acerbic Tess recognizes real talent when she hears it, and immediately throws out the background CDs and goes to live performance (they conveniently already had a good band who played during breaks), and Ali is the new star. There’s still the side plot of the rich businessman Marcus (Eric Dane of “Gray’s Anatomy” fame) trying to buy out the club and woo Ali, while he’s at it, but the veteran troupe is like family, and they all stick together.
Yes, the acting is uneven, and the plot is corny, and grown men will stay away from this film in droves. But the musical production numbers are really sensational, and the soundtrack is now the number one seller on US Itunes. Christina Aguilera is a legitimate star, and here she has a chance to really shine. Expect “Burlesque” to attract some attention, if not at the Oscars (which hates musicals), at least in the musical or costume categories at the Golden Globes.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church in Greenville, Texas.