You don’t have to be familiar with AMC’s The Walking Dead to appreciate the subversive cheek of Gorilla Tango Theatre’s Boobs of the Dead: A Walking Dead Burlesque. For starters, the sexy parody doesn't delve too deeply into the TV show; it just follows the first season. (After waking from a coma, Sheriff finds himself in the middle of a zombie plague. He searches for answers and for his Wife Lady—who has been romanced by Best Friend—among the survivors.) Then there are the effects of the plague: the undead strip down to lacy underthings whenever pop music plays.
The burlesque show premiered its second run on Friday, October 4. Director Nicole Keating and choreographer Erica Reid have revamped the production with a new cast, new dances, and way more sparkles—the surest sign of a burlesque zombie infection. I sat down with Erica and Nicole ahead of The Walking Dead’s Season 4 premiere on Sunday, October 13, to discuss the sex appeal of zombies, their Season 4 predictions, and their own plans for when the outbreak hits.
GROUPON: There’s nothing really sexy about zombies, especially compared to classically romantic vampires or brutish but hunky werewolves. How does your show bring out the sexy in the undead?
ERICA REID: Our zombie trope is that the more [infected] they get, the more sexy they become.
NICOLE KEATING: [The] girls come in in their sexy costumes, and when they’re not dancing, they’re traditional zombies—but then when the music starts, you get more of the bump-and-grind element, the more traditional burlesque element.
ER: When you’re dealing with burlesque and sparkles and corsets, it’s pretty hard for things to not be sexy.
G: Does your choreography incorporate any of the classic zombie movements—slow walking, arms out, etc.? How did you infuse that with sensuality?
ER: It’s fun to play with the standard [zombie trope of] “now we’re attacking you, and now we’re really sexy, and now we’re going to rip your guts out.” It’s been a fun, playful thing to mix [up those elements], but there is a lot a gore, there is a lot of death, and there is a lot of striptease.
NK: In my opinion, the best burlesque has an element of comedy in it. [In our show,] the contrast between the scary zombie archetype and the sexy [choreography] actually ends up being comedic.
G: Many of the plot points in Boobs of the Dead revolve around the first season of The Walking Dead. Are there any references to later seasons, like a sexy Governor?
ER: [laughs] No. Maybe for the sequel!
N: Yeah, a sexy Michonne and a sexy Governor. Well, Michonne is already hot enough on her own. She doesn’t need any burlesque interpretation. But [our show] mostly [draws from] the first season—at this point you don’t have to be worried about any spoilers or anything.
G: The major players in the first season of The Walking Dead are largely male (Rick, Shane, Daryl, Merle). We don’t see strong female characters emerge until later seasons. How does your show subvert the masculine focus of early episodes?
NK: I think it’s part of the fun of it. There’s women interpreting these characters, and they can interpret them as feminine or as masculine as they choose. You have one character who’s playing the Wife Lady, but I think for everybody else it has been a fun experiment of “When am I masculine? When am I feminine?” And even when I’m portraying a more masculine stereotype, how do I make that sexy?
ER: I think that’s what Gorilla Tango burlesque does really well: playing with gender ambiguity. You’re here to see these attractive women doing the art of striptease, but they’re playing male characters, so how do I feel about that? How do the characters interact with each other? Do they acknowledge what gender they are? So it’s fun to play with that and see how each show interprets that in their performances.
G: If you could pick just one cast member to see the show, who would you pick—and how do you think they'd react?
NK: Steven Yuen [who plays Glenn], I think, would get a big kick out of it because he comes from a Chicago improv background, and improv and burlesque are definitely part of the same Venn diagram. [And] like you said, it’s a very masculine [cast], so I don’t think any of them are going to be upset with a lady taking off her clothes.
G: What are your predictions for Season 4 of The Walking Dead? Who do you want to bring the Governor to justice—Michonne, Rick, or Daryl?
NK: I have a preference for the archetypal heroes, so I would love it to be Rick, but I know there’s a lot of people that are really pushing for Daryl. [But] Michonne is also a badass. [She] is one of my favorite characters.
G: Last year, a Burlesque Chicago review raved about the show’s sexy horse. Was that the most challenging routine to choreograph?
ER: Last year it was, and we changed the number for this show. So if you saw the show last year, it’s a brand-new number in that space. It’s not challenging in that it’s hard to choreograph for a sexy horse, but in the fact that it is a mutilation scene. So trying to find ways to make that—
NK: Not a snuff film?
ER: Yeah. [In my numbers,] I’m really big into making the women be in control and really enjoying the act that’s happening. It’s a big challenge [to do that] when someone is being sort of ripped apart. But it’s something that I’m proud of. I love that number in this show.
G: Let’s say that a real zombie outbreak hits outside Gorilla Tango Theatre at the corner of Milwaukee and Western. Where do you hole up? Where do you gather supplies?
ER: I know for me personally I’d probably want to book it down to Revolution [Brewing] just so I could have a lot of beer.
NK: The brewery section of Revolution is quite large, so it might even have that shopping-mall aspect. I’d be useless in a zombie apocalypse, though. I like to think I’m a Buffy type who would actually be able to kill any sort of vampire or undead creature, but no, I’d be one of the first to go.
E: But if we were at Revolution, we could somehow find pickaxes and tear down the [brewery tanks] and maybe make some armor and shields.
G: I would probably just drink the beer.
NK: And there is one character [in Boobs of the Dead] that decides to do just that: drink and enjoy the show.
Boobs of the Dead is scheduled to run on select weekend nights through Friday, December 27, including a special Halloween performance on Thursday, October 31. Tickets are $35 per person, and the show is for those 18 and older.
Photo: Courtesy of K Leo/Gorilla Tango Theatre