In the same amount of time it takes to snap your fingers and command a "Wagon Wheel Watusi," a decade can shimmy by. At least that's the sentiment you get when talking to the artists behind the 2010 musical Burlesque, a true showgirl of a studio spectacle that never got its proper due in the Hollywood spotlight.
One decade after the film's Nov. 24, 2010 release, those who took writer-director Steven Antin's vision from far-off fantasy to a dream come true all attest: The memories of the magic they experienced on set are still as vivid as they were all those years ago. But they never got to fully share that excitement at the time of release. Plagued by stories of on-set clashes that overshadowed the production’s aesthetic merits, Christina Aguilera’s first feature film (and Cher’s debut screen musical) had to find its audience after a middling theatrical curtain call, eventually blossoming into an enduring cult phenomenon that’s still inspiring everything from drag queen revues to viral internet moments, 10 years later.
But a campy, niche classic isn’t exactly what the Burlesque crew set out to make. Its story is earnest and timeless: A vocally gifted, small-town waitress, Ali (Aguilera), leaves Iowa for Los Angeles with nothing but a bus ticket and raw talent in tow. Struggling to find a gig, she discovers a dazzling underground club, where the marquee attraction is — beyond the muscly hunk Jack (Cam Gigandet) tending bar — a troupe of confident, ravishing dancers (Kristen Bell, Julianne Hough) in complete control of their bodies (and the eyes that gaze upon them) while they writhe, lip-sync, and twirl, tempting Ali into their wonderland of dance. At the head of it all is Cher’s Tess, the club’s tough-as-nails owner struggling to keep the venue afloat after the 2008 financial crisis, who gambles it all on Ali’s voice as she attempts to turn a promising newcomer into a star — and a profit in the process.
But, like Tess and her wise, right-hand gay, Sean (Stanley Tucci), the film’s journey became all about making do with what you have and throwing a little glitter over the grease when the odds are stacked against you. Now, the team behind Burlesque — including Cher, Aguilera, Antin, choreographer Denise Faye, songwriter Diane Warren, music producer Tricky Stewart, costume designer Michael Kaplan, and Clint Culpepper, the Screen Gems president (and Antin's romantic partner at the time) who made it all happen, have assembled to reflect on the film’s legacy, recount its gestation, and reclaim the spotlight their work deserved.
STEVEN ANTIN (writer-director): My sister, Robin Antin, had a show that she created at the Viper Room [for] the Pussycat Dolls. They were becoming a popular thing, so she decided to do a bigger show at the Roxy. It was still the early days of the Pussycat Dolls, before they were a pop group. I wrote a story for her show that loosely weaved together their musical numbers. The show exploded. My sister was getting all these celebs to appear as guest performers. I got some cameras and shot the show over a few nights and edited together a little movie. That was the genesis.
CLINT CULPEPPER (Screen Gems studio president): One day I was on the set of a movie [and] Christina’s agent called, saying they’d had a big meeting with her and that she wanted to do a movie. They thought I might have something, and I smiled and told them I might. I called Steven [and told him] it was a sign he should make this movie. Steven started to write it and it snowballed from there. We started on the script right away!
ANTIN: I’d talked to a few different studios and networks about the project with my ex-producing partner, Joe Voci. We had a detailed outline, but it was really broad, and more of a comedy, like the old Beatles movies…. Clint always loved the idea of doing a more grounded Burlesque musical in a nightclub, not a broad comedy, and he pushed me to write the script. He believed in the project, but I just couldn’t get my head wrapped around a story that I thought worked. So, Clint and I wrote an outline together, then started writing the script. The simple idea was to set it in a small burlesque club: A girl escaping her life shows up with a big voice.
CULPEPPER: We both had the idea of doing something that harkened back [to] old musicals from the ‘40s…. Betty Grable, all those big, dance-y studio movies about putting on a show. It had that feel to it. That’s what we grew up on!
MICHAEL KAPLAN (costume designer): I wanted a modern take on burlesque with a retro feel and a nod to its history and origins. Naughtiness without being crass! There’s a bit of the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris, the musical Cabaret, as well as the '60s TV show Hullabaloo as well as the Follies Bergère.
As the scope for Burlesque grew, the script underwent tweaks with help from writers John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck), Diablo Cody (Juno), and Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich). Somewhere along the way, Antin jokes, the infamous “air rights” plot device found its way into the story (“It was a feeble attempt at infusing story. I hate that device. I always did,” he says). But, the meat of the narrative was there, and the pair were ready to dot their call sheet with glistening stars — beginning with courting Aguilera to play their budding ingenue.
CHRISTINA AGUILERA (Ali/songwriter): I'd been presented other acting and movie opportunities, but was holding out for something that felt right. Timing can play a big factor in balancing between album and touring cycles.
ANTIN: I actually shot the show that Christina Aguilera did with the Pussycat Dolls [years prior], but I didn’t get to know her then. A few years after, we sent her the script for Burlesque. I saw her at a party and approached her. She was sweet and said she knew about the script, but hadn’t read it yet. She finally read it and agreed to a meeting with Clint and [then-Sony Motion Picture Chairperson] Amy Pascal. I wasn’t there for that meeting, and I believe Clint helped in getting her to say yes.
CULPEPPER: She had notes…. We even did a rewrite to make the character more active. She wanted it to reflect more of today’s woman.
AGUILERA: I wanted to make sure Burlesque felt right before confirming, so it was important to meet Steven in person. His warm and genuine nature encouraged me to confirm, along with him interweaving so many pieces of my love for Etta James [into the script], knowing my personal passion for Burlesque [on] my Back to Basics album, and also [with me having] performed in the original Pussycat Dolls stage show at the Roxy.
ANTIN: She came and met me in my office…. It was a very good meeting. I liked her so much. She asked really smart questions. One has to be quick and prepared for someone like Christina in a meeting. She had the best skin and the bluest eyes I’d ever seen.
CULPEPPER: We [later] went out to dinner with Christina and her [then-husband Jordan Bratman], we went to her house and listened to a bunch of music and got to know each other. She and Steven sat and played ideas for music, [later] she went into his office and saw all the books he’d collected on production design and photography — all stuff that appealed to her…. They hit it off great. Steven and Christina were, creatively, on the same page.
AGUILERA: I had always been inspired by throwback classic pin-up art and burlesque style, essentially all things celebrating the female body and sexuality, so I was already versed in the history and appeal of this world, conceptually. I collected books, had played with burlesque style on my Back to Basics tour, and explored visual concepts and songs (including “Nasty Naughty Boy,” about a striptease).
As Aguilera boarded, Antin also sought technical collaborators to bring Burlesque’s aesthetic to life, including Kaplan, production designer Jon Gary Steele, and choreographers Joey Pizzi and Denise Faye — a Broadway dancer who’d worked with Rob Marshall on Chicago and Nine — in early 2009.
…and then came Cher. Or, at least, the seemingly far-off fantasy of getting Cher — who first received the script from Antin and Culpepper’s friend, David Geffen — to play the club owner, Tess, in her first movie role in seven years (and the Oscar winner’s first-ever musical feature film).
ANTIN: For the role of Ali, we wanted an actress with a very big voice. Christina was the choice. The role of Tess could’ve gone several ways. At first, I was interested in Queen Latifah or Michelle Pfeiffer. But Clint came up with and loved the idea of Cher. Amy really wanted Cher, and so did Clint. I liked the idea, too. So did Christina. I mean, hello. Cher. Enough said…. Cher was on a soundstage doing a voiceover for Zookeeper. Clint heard she was there. We camped outside of the stage and waited for her to exit. When she did, we introduced ourselves.
CULPEPPER: She had these little ‘70s glasses on, and she looked up, stopped, and said, “What are you two doing here?” I said, “We’re ambushing you…. we’re going to take you right up there [to Steven’s office] and talk you into doing this movie!” She laughed and turned to her assistant and said, “We have a few minutes. Let’s humor them!”
ANTIN: Besides David [Geffen], her manager was also talking to her about the script, so she was very aware of it. We begged for five minutes of her time. We wanted her to come to my office to see all the renderings of the set and my references plastered all over the walls, storyboards, and the endless preparation…. She was actually really funny about it, and I was surprised that she agreed to join us! When she got to my office, she was impressed with everything she saw. The meeting went well. But there were many more meetings and conversations before she actually said yes. A few weeks later, Clint and I went to her house in Malibu for another meeting. I went to her house alone with just the two of us for another meeting. More meetings and many more conversations followed. It was a long process. Clint was driven to get her on board, and he made it happen.
CULPEPPER: Christina kept saying, “Please, Clint, get Cher! Don’t come back to me without Cher!” It was a joke between us, because after I met Cher at her house for three hours with Donald [De Line, the executive producer] and Steve, we called Christina as we left. She was at the Chateau with some friends and she said, “Come here immediately. I have to hear everything!”
Culpepper felt Aguilera’s deep admiration for Cher — emotions complimentary to the dynamic between Ali and Tess in the film. And he needed them to feel it, too. So, he introduced Aguilera to her idol on the Sony lot after Cher committed to the project.
CULPEPPER: Cher called me to say she was on the lot [on a different stage] rehearsing her Vegas act, and to drop by. So, I did. Christina was on the other side of the lot rehearsing. I’d told Cher that Christina loved her so much: “You don’t understand, this chick would drink your bathwater!” Cher started laughing hysterically and said, “Well, I hope that doesn’t become necessary!”
When we met Cher, Christina was holding her kid on her hip, and we walked over…. Cher [saw us] and went, “Ok, everybody, take five!” It was so cute. Christina stuck her hand out and said “Hi, I’m Christina, the one who would drink your bathwater.” Cher grabbed her and gave her a big hug and a kiss.
AGUILERA: She’s truly an incredible woman and a force of nature. I respect her talent, her no-bulls---, genuine way of saying it as she sees it, making up her own rules, and helping to pave the way for so many other women in generations to come.
CULPEPPER: When you want somebody and they’re not available, before you move on, you have to see if it’s logistically possible [to accommodate], so that’s what we did: We frontloaded [Christina’s solo parts] before Christmas, and we shot everything with Cher after Christmas. [When Cher arrived] I’d play stuff that I’d cut together. I’d take dailies and I’d give it to an editor to put dance numbers and scenes together like a promo reel, and I showed it to Cher to show what we’d done for the last two months while she was in Vegas. It was all of these numbers with Christina. She smiled and said, “Oh my God, this is going to be fun!” And it was.
While preparing her Hollywood debut, Aguilera was simultaneously finishing her sixth studio album, Bionic, which released in June 2010. According to Tricky Stewart, who co-penned and produced LP cuts “Glam,” “Desnudate,” and “Prima Donna” across intimate sessions at the superstar’s home, their organic chemistry led to Aguilera inviting him — and fellow Bionic songsmiths Sia, Claude Kelly, Ester Dean, Samuel Dixon, and Linda Perry — to join her in creating the film’s soundtrack.
TRICKY STEWART (songwriter/producer): Christina is a real diva, and being around her and watching her attention to detail, the vibe that she gives me always made me want to make music that I consider to be “fabulous.” Burlesque was an extension of “Glam” and “Prima Donna” from Bionic, a continuation of that fabulousness, but with a controlled theme and narrative.
AGUILERA: In songwriting, I had to tackle both the tender moments of Ali falling in love with Jack, while also tackling the opposite energy of the up-tempo [songs] where I needed to embody and exude the powerful, sensual, and celebratory sides that encompass a woman.
DENISE FAYE (choreographer): I remember when Christina wrote the song to the number “Express,” and the finale song “Show Me How You Burlesque,” she brought me to her house with Clint and Steven, and [she started playing songs, like] “Maybe this song for this number” and “Maybe this song for the finale.” She was adorable, reading off her iPhone — kind of scared — with something prepared, and the songs blew us away. They were beyond genius. The idea for “Express,” when the girls are crawling through the vanities, we came up with that there, and the idea for the “Burlesque” letters lighting up at the end, we came up with that — and using the 360 degrees of the space because it was so gigantic — there.
STEWART: We were sitting in a room at her house. I went to the drum machine that I use and just [plays drum], the first thing that popped off was how it needed to feel and move. Once I hit a kick pattern, she loved it, and she started rapping. She was coming out with words, going back and forth.
Musically, everyone anticipated Aguilera delivering natural talent. But leaving her star persona behind to disappear into a character was new to her, and she committed to a grueling rehearsal schedule atop heavy contributions to the soundtrack.
ANTIN: Christina had to become familiar with the entire process of acting. She’d never really done it before, and suddenly she was the lead, carrying a movie. From rehearsing with other actors to learning lines to embracing the moment and the realness of it all. She was open to my direction, which was great…. Christina realized this was new to her and she took it all very seriously, and was committed to working hard on getting it right.
AGUILERA: In preparation of shooting, I worked with an acting coach. I’d never been taught or exposed to such a wide range of “technical” dance and so many different styles and levels all at once while rehearsing and filming this movie.
CULPEPPER: Christina said, “Trust me, you’re not going to have a problem. I’ve got this.” After a few days, Denise said we weren’t going to need a body double. She’d rehearse, even at home, because Christina’s not showing up to not be the best on set. There’s not a world where Christina is going to be out-danced or out-sung.
FAYE: She was dancing in styles she hadn’t before, and you can see how gorgeously she did. She didn’t use any doubles. This is all her, working hard and being spectacular. She was completely in it, she wasn’t trying to change it at all, she wasn’t trying to make it comfortable for herself.
ANTIN: Denise and Joey wanted Christina to do a difficult dance move in “But I’m a Good Girl” — an extended back-attitude kick to the head. It’s a very tough move that requires a lot of skill. It involves doing a back-kick where her heel touches the back of her head…. None of us thought she could do it, and honestly, we weren’t concerned because we had the double ready to go. But Christina quietly kept rehearsing it and trying it and working on it, and one day she said to me, “I don’t need a dance double. I can do it.” She did it on the day we shot it over and over.
Glitter and shine might be the hallmarks of Burlesque’s visual appeal, but the inspiration for the film’s dance numbers required scaling back. Essentially, spend money (the film was Screen Gems’ most expensive picture to date) to look worn. Faye says each number went through a “series of versions,” evolving from magical fantasy and ending as “the poor version” that would actually be feasible in an underground club struggling to make money. Once Ali slinks down into the “faded glamour” of the club for the first time, the whole thing unfolds like Alice down a rabbit hole, with each choreographed dance trimmed with both grit and glitz.
STEWART: The set had been built out on a miniature scale, then we got to see the set built out into the real thing, and they had us walk through the whole set that was being built for those numbers so we could feel the essence of what needed to happen in those scenes. “Express” is the fruit of actually having them explain their vision, then the vision [for that song] came out through the music.
CULPEPPER: The biggest challenge was making sure we had all the coverage for the dance numbers, but I was seeing that stuff cut together, because Steven was asking an editor to cut it together as he was going on so he knew what pieces he had to get.
FAYE: “Tough Lover” went through an awful lot of changes. It had boys, then the boys were gone, then it had boys and girls, but it ended up being pretty simple and beautiful…. In the [concepting] days of “forget money,” actually, either “But I’m a Good Girl” or “Tough Lover” was supposed to have a conveyor belt that people were supposed to run on while it was moving. It was brilliant, then it was like, no, this is Tess’ club, back to zero! But I don’t have one number in that movie that I wish was a different number.
ANTIN: The day we shot “Welcome to Burlesque,” I’d never seen Cher do the number. I had six cameras set up on a gigantic soundstage with a massive crew, and a zillion dancers around Cher that she had never worked with…. I said, “Ok, let’s see it!” They started the number, and…. it was all over the place! I started to sweat and panic. I thought I was going to fail at capturing this opening number for Cher. Anyway, we worked it out and I shot the number in what turned out to be a very long day. At lunch, I went to Cher’s trailer to say hi and check in. I was thinking, “Ok, this is surreal. I’m in Cher’s trailer dressing room, just hanging out and chatting. Just us.” She was sweet, cool, and very casual, and she somehow made it all seem normal.
FAYE: When Cher started working on that, she wanted to work at her house with her person, meaning one of her dancers coming to our rehearsals and bringing the work back to her. I was vocal about saying this isn’t the best version of how this works…. When she came to set, we needed to have a melting time to coalesce the whole thing into what it ultimately became.
CHER (Tess): I loved performing “Welcome to Burlesque” so much that I decided to recreate a version of it for my live show. The audience loves it.
CULPEPPER: With all the coverage, “Show Me How Your Burlesque” took the most days — multiple long days. It was the most challenging to everybody. That was one of the things where Steve rolled up his sleeves and got in there for two or three days of [angles]. If you look at that number, the amount of coverage that he was able to get, when we took it into the cutting room, it gave him so much to work with. It was a very time-consuming number, but well worth it!
KAPLAN: Dance costumes have different requirements than the type of clothing I’m used to designing. Then there are the custom shoes — and the blisters.... One of Christina’s costumes was made completely of pearls wired together. The costumes for the film’s finale were made from a variety of chains I bought at hardware stores. These were extremely challenging to produce, with a very effective result, if I do say so myself!
FAYE: The dancers were exhausted, the costumes were gorgeous, but I think some of the girls got scratches on their underarms from the jewels!
AGUILERA: Cher definitely felt like my mama bear during shooting. In my experience of meeting and working with some of the greatest legends, the best ones usually are that way. They look out for you in a real way, and it was an honor to work alongside Cher. She gave me some good advice, shared some personal insight and stories on love, and also encouragement along the way when I needed to hear it! There were a few scenes we shared where I learned from her that being a supportive costar really helps to create something special, and motivating each other is what makes for a great outcome. It’s important to have a communication and a special understanding of each other.
CHER: One of my favorite scenes is when I was helping Christina with her makeup. It was all very spontaneous. It reminded me of when I was a young girl and my mom and all her friends would put on makeup together.
The film originally had a different ending — a nod to the Julia Roberts classic Pretty Woman — that Antin retooled.
ANTIN: The first ending for the film I shot wasn’t good. I hated it. I didn’t like the way it was written, and I didn’t like the set. Honestly, I didn’t do a very good job. It was Pretty Woman on a fire escape. We tested it with an audience, and everyone agreed… reshoot it! It was Jack and Ali saying goodbye, and then he gets into a taxi to go to the airport to go somewhere. I can’t even remember where. Ali runs out onto the fire escape and calls his name, and he jumps out of the taxi and climbs the fire escape to her, and they have this big, romantic kiss. Then, we cut to the big musical finale, “Show Me How You Burlesque,” which is still the same.
One thing Antin initially wanted to remove from the film, however, has since grown into one of its most iconic moments: Cher’s solo number, “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,” which sees her singing a meta tune (penned by longtime collaborator Diane Warren) about resilience. In her Best Original Song acceptance speech at the 2011 Golden Globes, Warren thanked Cher for being an “eternal badass” who fought “to get the song in the movie and keep the song in the movie,” and Cher even released it as her first solo single since 2003’s “Love One Another.”
DIANE WARREN (songwriter): At first, I wrote something else, I sent that in, and they didn’t want that, and I don’t even remember what that song was. I got really inspired…. reading the script, because that character is a lot like Cher. She’s not a quitter. I rolled up my sleeves and wrote something really great. I wanted to write Cher’s “My Way.” When you think about Cher, she did do it her way, and she’ll never go away. She makes a joke herself that, at the end of the world, it’ll be cockroaches and Cher. But, I think she’ll outlive the cockroaches. That’s what I was aiming for.
CHER: When Diane Warren brought me the song, I told her there was no way I could ever reach those notes, but somehow, I managed.
WARREN: I was trying every way [to keep the song in the film]. I had everyone that I knew calling [Steve]. I’d basically given up, and I ended up going out to dinner the next week, where I ran into Loree Rodkin, Cher’s best friend. I played her the song, because what did I have to lose? She was like, “This is so great!” so she texted Cher right then, and Cher goes, “Is this an old f---in’ song of hers?” like that! I was like, “No, tell her it’s a new f---in’ song!” Loree said if I got her the CD, she’d get it to Cher. I gave her the song thinking nothing was going to happen. A couple of weeks later I heard from Cher’s manager, who loved the song, and she ended up recording it. I don’t think Steven even wanted it then! But it was the right song for her and the movie.
ANTIN: [I] wanted to cut that number. It wasn’t about Cher’s performance. Her performance was good and she looked great. The song just didn’t belong in the movie. I didn’t think it was right the first time Diane played it for me. It sounded like an ‘80s power ballad, which I love, but it seemed incongruous in the movie. Perhaps if it were rewritten and interpolated into something that belonged in our world, it would’ve worked better. It did, however, win a Golden Globe, so perhaps I was wrong!
WARREN: At one point they were saying [Steven] wanted to test the movie without the song in it, and I think Cher was like, if you even test the movie without the song in, I will do no press! She really had my back on that song. She knew what it was, and Cher doesn’t always know what the right song is.... and this one she loved from day one.
CHER: I think everyone can relate to the message of that song. At some point in everyone’s life, you feel that need to remind the world who you are.
After filming wrapped in early 2010, industry publications reported on-set tensions between Culpepper and Antin, as the couple allegedly clashed during production. Buzz snowballed ahead of the film’s Nov. 24 theatrical bow, to the point where press for the project fixated on gossip, to Culpepper’s chagrin.
CULPEPPER: [One newspaper] decided they’d do a thing on the back-and-forth between me and Steven about budget and making our days, and it turned it into, ‘Oh, these two queens making a movie together,’ and that’s so reductive and not fair to Christina, Cher, Denise, all the dancers…
ANTIN: Directors fight for what they believe in. Some battles I won. Sort of. Others, I lost. Generally, the studio wins. Unless you’re Christopher Nolan. I do wish our differences weren’t so public.
CULPEPPER: There weren’t creative differences. There wasn’t anything Steven wanted, creatively, that anybody disagreed with. The controversy on the set was the number of days and getting the movie done so it wouldn’t go over budget…. Steven got it and achieved his vision…. The disagreements came from, we didn’t have time, we have to move on. That’s just what happens in movies. The difference is, in every movie, the director isn’t in a relationship with the studio.
FAYE: The biggest challenge is having the time to do the work that you want to do when timing is money. You’re always against a clock, and that will always be every project’s nemesis. I’m a perfectionist, and Steven is even more so, and that’s the challenge: Wanting every second to be delicious or finessed and powerful, and that specificity takes time.
ANTIN: Especially on a movie like this, it’s a negotiation with the actors, all the different departments, production design, makeup, hair, the executives, the agents, managers... To be clear, the studio wasn’t trying to change anything in particular. [It’s all a] normal process of making a movie. It’s a collaborative art form, and the studio is writing the check, so they have opinions about mostly everything, which is understandable.
CULPEPPER: If I’m doing my job, it’s protecting the studio, and if Steven’s doing his job, he’s being an advocate for the movie. What you don’t usually have is the two people who are discussing it also able to discuss it at home, at dinner. It became very personal. To keep it strictly professional was impossible. There was me saying “Hey, you’ve got to move on,” and him saying, “I don’t have it, I’m not going to move on.” And normally you don’t have [that familiarity between two people] because it’s more of a professional discussion. There’s not that separation of civility because it’s like you’re dealing with your husband or wife [but] you compromise.
Promoting the film became a push-and-pull between appealing to mainstream audiences and staying true to the film’s soul. In mid-2010, a melodramatic trailer that didn’t match the film’s tone was poorly received (“everyone thought it was going to be Showgirls,” Culpepper jokes), though a second cut fared better. Still, signs pointed to a solid opening for the film against family-oriented fare at the Thanksgiving box office. The film eventually pulled in $17.3 million over the five-day holiday frame in fourth place behind a Harry Potter film, Tangled, and the animated holdover Megamind. Critical reception was similarly muted, which many of those involved with the film feel was yet another byproduct of the exploitative pre-release coverage.
ANTIN: We tested the movie several times of course, and the final test was with an audience in Arizona. The movie tested through the roof. It was insane. It was in the high-90s, and that’s rare. It was obviously an audience that loved Cher and Christina, but I was worried. I thought something was off. I didn’t believe those high numbers.
WARREN: I was blown away. The first time I saw it in the movie was the night of the premiere, and it got a standing ovation. I think it was my 19th song I’d done with Cher, and I knew what it would sound like in my head, but it sounded better, if that’s possible. She owned it. That song is hers.
ANTIN: We opened on Thanksgiving weekend, which is generally a weekend for family movies. We were up against huge titles. So, I was a bit disappointed by the opening weekend numbers.
CULPEPPER: A lot of people worked really hard to get this movie made. Christina, I’ve never seen anyone more professional than she was. She killed herself [making it], what she put into this movie, energy-wise, rehearsal time, time away from her family, her son, she gave everything…. I feel like this was pre-judged before everyone saw it. Once something is tainted with any kind of negativity, press loves to take it and snowball it because that’s juicy and it sells…. it became more about the pieces and not the movie.
At the end of its box office run, Burlesque grossed $90 million worldwide, with multiple millions more in home video sales. That, Culpepper says, is where Burlesque found wider audiences outside the largely queer demographic that supported its theatrical run.
AGUILERA: Every dancer moved their body in a different unique way, and it’s a beautiful thing to appreciate and fall in love with dance on the personal level that this movie provided for me. It was a lifetime of lessons compacted into a short period of time, in so many ways.
ANTIN: The movie has continued to have legs and make money, well over $100 million with a [Gold soundtrack] album. Burlesque was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture [and won for Diane Warren’s song]. All of that felt good.
WARREN: I don’t ever expect anything, but it was kind of shocking [that “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” didn’t get an Oscar nod]. Cher was really pissed off…. I never saw [Steven] after that. I might’ve seen him at the party after, and I didn’t thank him in the thank you speech [at the Globes]. I should’ve…. Looking back now, I’m thankful he kept it in. I don’t hold grudges. It all worked out!
FAYE: I directed and choreographed Cher for many years. I’d travel all over the world with her, and the one thing people would scream when they had the audiences lined up was “Cher, I loved you in Burlesque!” It came up so much, more than anything else. It’s unbelievable.
CULPEPPER: The audience it got that was surprising [after release] was the young girls who looked at these strong women…. These girls were watching it time and time again on TV, they’d watch it with their friends or their mothers or buy the DVD. Now that it’s taken on this cult following, Cher has a whole new audience of young girls…. It was a bunch of 13-year-old girls who’ve loved it and grown with it. Yes, the gays love it, but there’s no one in town that’s surprised that the gays are going to love something that Christina Aguilera and Cher do together!
ANTIN: I certainly didn’t set out to make a camp movie that people laugh at. But, I’m happy the gay community embraced it and I’m happy that people still enjoy watching it. Several years ago [RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Farrah Moan and Chad Michaels] did a live drag version of the movie, which I thought was hilarious.
CHER: It’s not a surprise to me that it has been deeply embraced by the gay community. Of course, that makes me happy that 10 years later people are still embracing it and new people are still discovering it.
CULPEPPER: When you show it to an audience that doesn’t know [the controversy], it’s like The Voice: you parse it down to the voice, nothing else. The DVD audience didn’t know the background, the budget, the controversy, they didn’t know any of that. They just looked at it and went, “That’s charming as s---.” And that’s what everyone says about the movie: It’s charming, it makes you smile. In today’s world, that’s all you hope for.
ANTIN: [I didn’t direct another film because] I guess I needed time to lick my wounds, and I was suddenly getting jobs directing commercials — mostly musical commercials at first, but it opened up to all kinds…. I also developed and sold several TV shows I wrote the pilots for, so I’ve kept busy. I also have two TV shows in development now, both involving music. One is a timely, provocative story inspired by a classic movie, and one is related to Burlesque. Both are really awesome, so, stay tuned!
FAYE: We’re working on this hybrid spectacular, live musical version of Burlesque that’s going to stream and have extraordinary add-on features because of technology. Steven and I are deep into this.
ANTIN: It’s inspired by Burlesque: A re-imagination. It morphs what’s best about TV, Broadway, film, and digital entertainment. It’s a hybrid television event/series taking the movie to the next level.
Burlesque is now available on disc and digital.