Q&A: Melody Sweets
Melody Sweets has evolved from the alpha burlesque queen of Absinthe to a shimmering chanteuse who makes regular appearances at Myron’s Cabaret Jazz inside The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Sweets recently touched base with Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen on the occasion of her upcoming Cabaret Jazz production The Sweets’ Spot Holiday Spectacular on Dec. 19 to talk with her about the current turning point in her career.
It’s been nearly two months since you last descended from the ceiling of Absinthe’s Spiegeltent in front of Caesars Palace. Do you miss being the Green Fairy?
My last day in Absinthe was Oct. 22, and although I miss my friends I have really been enjoying my time.
More flexibility, more time to do other things you want to do.
Yeah. It’s all of a sudden a new Las Vegas for me because for the past seven years I’ve been working five nights a week, which was amazing, of course. I’m now able to see a new Las Vegas that I’ve never been able to see before. It’s wonderful. I get to go to all the shows and hang out with people I wouldn’t ordinarily get to hang out with. It’s been great.
What have you been able to do that you couldn’t do before when you were working so much?
Actually, last night I was able to go to the Composer’s Showcase at the Smith Center. It happens once a month every second Wednesday and I’ve never been able to go, obviously, because Absinthe has two shows on Wednesday. Last night was the first night I was able to go and I really loved it. It’s a full big band. It’s artists from all over the city that come in and showcase new music. It was great. I was able to see Elton John, and I get to go to the Vegas Strong concert coming up tomorrow. I’m excited.
You’ve become a regular performer at The Smith Center. How did that relationship come about?
I had met Myron Martin somewhere downtown for the EntSpeaks series. It was (Vegas-based Emmy-winning production designer) Andy Walmsley’s sort of TED Talks thing. So I went in and Myron was talking, and I just found him so endearing. He’s so adorable. I just started talking to him and realized Smith Center and Las Vegas in general doesn’t really have much authentic, glamorous, naughty burlesque. I let him know I keep it classy-ish (laughs), and he let me do it. It was wonderful, and I guess he liked it. This show coming up is my fifth show there, and every single one has sold out so far.
How much difference is there between modern burlesque and new cabaret? Are they both resurging at the same speed?
Yeah. You’re talking to someone who believes burlesque should be everywhere (laughs), so yeah, I do believe burlesque and cabaret go together. I’m proof of that. I love cabaret. I sing cabaret shows. Burlesque fits so well in that scene. Same thing with jazz, any kind of music really. I think you should have burlesque for dinner.
Except cabaret will have a sword swallower instead of a burlesque performer.
Yeah, cabaret has the option of having many different kinds of entertainment. You can have any kind of variety act: singers, comedians. Which, honestly, is what a burlesque show technically is. Back in the day when burlesque first started, that’s what “burlesque” meant. It meant a variety show. We now think, when you hear the word “burlesque,” of the striptease art of it all.
How risqué can you get at The Smith Center?
Wouldn’t you want to know? (Laughs)
I mean in front of the audiences at The Smith Center.
Oh. Um … I like to push it. I like to ask for forgiveness afterwards instead of permission, and that seems to be working just fine. (Laughs) We produce a different kind of show at The Smith Center as opposed to when I did my solo shows in the Absinthe tent. You can put together two completely different shows in those two completely different venues. That’s part of the fun for producing shows for me.
Was it a natural progression from doing the late night shows at Absinthe’s Speigeltent to The Smith Center, or is this more something that harkens back to your shows in New York?
It’s a combination of both, most definitely. The shows in New York that I can do, I didn’t have the aerial capabilities that I have in the Absinthe theater. In that setting, I had more options, and more chances to bring in different styles of entertainment. New York theaters are very much different, especially my theater. It was a beautiful supper club. I would say the shows I did in the Absinthe tent were a mix of raunch and rawness, and the wild aspects that you can get away with in that setting.
How was the The Sweets’ Spot—Spooktacular?
Every show I’ve done there, I’ve been able to bring in new artists and new music. The Spooktacular one, I think, so far has been my favorite. I love doing campy, fun shows to make people smile and at the same time push the limits. For the first time in Smith Center history we had a “boylesque” performer. Things like that, being able to introduce that to audience that have might not have been able to see it before, has been great. My favorite part is watching the audience’s faces. (Laughs)
How long has The Sweets’ Spot Holiday Spectacular been in the works?
Since about a month before the Spooktacular.
Are you adding an element to Holiday Spectacular that hasn’t been seen before?
Oh, yeah. Every single show I do, I add something new and different. This one is actually a big one. I’m working with a new band for this show, and I’m ecstatic. I’m working with Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns, and they’re just a wonderful big band. Really strong, huge horn section. Oh, I can’t wait! It’s going to feel so powerful and amazing to be up on stage with them.
Who’s their bandleader?
Jerry Lopez is usually their bandleader, but this time around it’s (veteran Vegas production music director) Dave Richardson. He’s a pianist in Vegas: The Show.
So Lon Bronson is not your bandleader this time but he helped you out with your recording, right?
We’re working on a recording right now. We’re in the studio, yeah.
I heard you were recording at National Southwest Recording studio in Downtown Las Vegas.
Yeah, I love it. That place makes me feel like we’re in New York, back in Brooklyn. Makes me feel like I’m at home.
How is the recording going? How long before it makes it to people’s ears?
It’s taken longer than I had expected, which happens often. Right now I think all we need to do it go in and mix and master it. We’ve recorded it all. I just need to go in with a fresh pair of ears and listen back, mix it up and get it out. I’m hoping to have that song and a couple of other songs ready for release in spring. That’s my goal.
Are you going to be performing any of the new material in the upcoming show?
Yes, I’m going to perform “Is It My Body?”
That’s an Alice Cooper cover, right?
What made you decide to cover that?
I think I have such a long list of songs that I’d like to cover. I sent that list over to Lon and just said, “You pick one.” Whatever one he got most excited about, I knew he would want to work on the most, which means I’d probably get the best work out of him. And since I love that song and he wanted to do it, he was the man to do it with then.
How far back do you go with some of the featured burlesque performers? Who will be back from previous shows?
I like to use many different performers and change it up a bit. The burlesque community is small and tight-knit, but it’s growing nationally. I tend to use a lot of the same performers because they’re quality, and I know that I’m going to get a good show out of them. A lot of times I have to actually hire performers without actually having seen their act because I’m flying them from out of town, so I need professionals. I need people who I know will get on that stage and no matter what they do, you’re going to love what they do because they’re true entertainers and they understand the art form. Every show I’ve done in Las Vegas, I’ve never been able to do a dress rehearsal. There’s not enough time and there’s not enough money, to be honest. I have to deal with the best of the best in order to get the best show without any real rehearsal.
Are Kalani Kokonuts and LouLou D'vil scheduled to appear again?
They’re not in the show this time. Bettina May and Buttercup are. They’re both local, and I have my out-of-town performer, Miss Exotic World title holder Michelle L’amour, who has been here before but not for the Christmas show. She’s from Chicago. She will be bringing in her coveted “butt cracker.” (Laughs)
I can’t get a visual of that.
You should come to the show. I’m putting it on the big screen. And MsTickle. In burlesque, she’s really looked up to. She has a wonderful creative brain, and I’m bringing one of her gorgeous acts to the stage. It’s really beautiful.
Are you going to feature “Boylesque” this time?
Somewhat of a boylesque performer, but he’s more of a magician. His name is Albert Cadabra. He’s from New York and works for Ripley’s Believe It or Not. He tours with them. There will also be a contortionist doing a number inside a huge, life-size snow globe. Her name is Ekaterina. We will be having very special guests from the Chippendales. They also star in my music video, “Santa Maybe.” We will have some Jubilee showgirls joining us for the show as well, and we’ll be featuring Rebecca DeCarteret, the lead dancer from Vegas! The Show. Last but not least, we will have Jassen Allen on vocals with me again. He’s been to every “Sweet Spot” with me, and if you’ve ever heard him sing … sometimes I wish it was the days of Motown because he would be the biggest star.