Dinner with a side of titillation in Tacoma

Cabaret dinner theater coming this weekend

craig.sailor@thenewstribune.comMay 16, 2014 

Take a seat Tacoma, you’re about to get teased.

On Friday, a cabaret dinner theater will open its doors to what organizers hope will become a weekly burlesque event. A large event space in South Tacoma will be transformed into a 1920s speakeasy with risqué performances and dining.

The dinner theater is the brainchild of event producer Marvin Gaviria and burlesque performer Hether Morgan. The pair wanted to bring high-quality cabaret entertainment to Tacoma like the kind found at Teatro ZinZanni in Seattle.

“If they can do it in Seattle, we can do it in T-Town,” Morgan said.

Gaviria is the owner of Cultura Event Center in South Tacoma, the venue for the new show. He’s been producing entertainment events for the Latino community since 2006, including a festival to welcome the Colombian navy’s tall ship ARC Gloria to Tacoma in 2008. Following the success of that event, he ran the Tacoma Maritime Fest from 2010-2013.

“(During) three years in the city, I had built a lot of great relationships, and I was looking for something to do,” Gaviria said.

In late 2012 he leased the building at 5602 S. Washington St. in South Tacoma that had been the site of several entertainment venues, including Station 56 and Club Vanity.

Today, the building is booked three months out, Gaviria said. Food truck and pop-up food vendors use the building’s large commercial kitchen to prepare their offerings while the two-story public area is busy with tango classes, weddings, quinceaneras, concerts, high school proms and corporate events.

On two Thursdays a month, Gaviria stages the Cultura Comedy Room. Joey Medina and Gerald Kelly have headlined shows. This Thursday, Kool Bubba Ice will perform.

Morgan is producing the Cultura Cabaret shows, now scheduled for just one night a month (with two shows nightly). But, if successful, Morgan and Gaviria plan to increase the frequency to weekly shows.

Morgan, who performs as Dessi DeVine, is drawing on a vast number of fellow burlesque and related performers for the show. The cast and acts will change monthly.

The cabaret will offer a seated, theater-in-the-round interactive experience for 220 spectators. Ticket prices reflect three levels of seating: sofas, cocktail seating and larger tables. Friday’s show will be hosted by performer Armitage Shanks, a regular at The Pink Door’s cabaret show in Seattle.

Morgan interned with Teatro ZinZanni in 2013 and is using her experience there to inform the production in Tacoma. She emphasizes that Cultura Cabaret is not another South Tacoma Way strip club moved a few blocks to the west.

Burlesque, Morgan said, plays off of the anticipation of the removal of clothing without ever getting to complete nudity. She likens the 21-and-over performances to an R-rated movie.

“Their unmentionables are never revealed,” she said.

The 75-minute shows are a mix of aerial arts, vocalists, dancers and historic vaudeville sideshow art forms including a fire performer.

Morgan said the shows appeal to both genders. The majority of the audiences at burlesque are women, she said. Burlesque performers are often “voluptuous and curvy. They’re not the girls you were to see in a magazine. Women feel more comfortable and inspired that a curvy woman can be on stage.”

Men, Morgan said, find burlesque “sexy because it leaves more to the imagination. You can get nudity anywhere. It’s refreshing and taboo to revisit a time when it wasn’t available.”

Morgan became a burlesque performer eight years ago. “Being a taller, curvier woman, it was very inspiring for me.”

She started a burlesque group, Brass Knuckle Burlesque, that performed in Tacoma and Lakewood nightclubs and bars.

Currently, she is a stage manager at The Pink Door and involved with Tacoma’s Gritty City Sirens Burlesque troupe.

In addition to the performers at Cultura Cabaret, the entire staff will be in costume and in character. The idea is to re-create the vaudeville/Prohibition era of the early 20th century, Morgan and Gaviria said.

A boutique at the event center will sell rhinestone jewelry, feathered hairpieces and head shots of the performers. Theatergoers, who are encouraged to “dress to impress,” can pose for photos against a themed backdrop.

Hostesses from Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque in Seattle will seat patrons. “It was important to me to have a majority of the supporting staff connected to the theatrical community,” Morgan said. “We want them to be educated in the theater and in character.”

Though the shows are being billed as dinner theater, the menu will be a la carte. Ticket prices are for the show only and do not include food. The menu, which ranges from appetizers to five-course meals, includes antipasto plates, gazpacho, caprese salad, roasted lemon chicken, herb roasted pork loin and pecan pie. The facility’s 80-foot long bar will feature cocktails that hark back to the Prohibition era.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541

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