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Velvet Stardust: Downtown’s lost horizon

BY JOHN PIETARO | Velvet Stardust may just be the hippest band in New York right now. But this is not just a band, it’s a damned experience.

Not since the Exploding Plastic Inevitable has our fair city been graced with such an ensemble of vocalists, dancers, musicians and performance artists. Imagine the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, Silver Apples and the Stilettos, along with happenings at Club 57 filtered through ’20s Berlin and ’80s Downtown, and you just may get it.

The Velvet Stardust Rock Show, as it’s more properly known, is the brainchild of dancer/impresario Jamie Marie Hannigan.

“I’ve been producing and directing shows for a long time, but this one was always my dream,” Hannigan said. “I guess I have an old soul. Something in me always identified with music of late ’70s to early ’90s. I watched videos on MTV as a child and this initially made me fall in love with the arts.”

(Photo by John Pietaro)

Velvet Stardust began as a last-minute fill-in at Crossroads, a New Jersey space.

“There was an open spot and when I got the call, we pulled this together in less than a week,” she said. “I thought, ‘Here’s my chance.’”

For many years, Hannigan had envisioned the possibility of mixing rock and a burlesque show.

“I was told that it cannot happen, so of course I had to do it.”

According to the ensemble’s own promo copy, Velvet Stardust is “an explosion of sweat, glitter and rock ’n’ roll.” Nuff said, but Hannigan’s Stage Stars Productions company, a one-woman operation (started when she was but 19 years old) concurrently juggles Starlight Jazz and Starstruck Kids, in addition to Velvet Stardust. And, in each case, she’s sure to tie it all into the struggle for social change.

“During the pandemic, when we couldn’t be indoors, I did shows out on a farm,” the New Jersey resident recalled. “We performed ‘Rocky Horror’ and the sense of community made all the difference in the world [during the lockdown].”

Hannigan, a strong progressive activist, has for some years also taught dance for children exposed to domestic violence via Brooklyn’s Women in Need organization. She’s also been affiliated with actor/activist Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation, as well as the Walk for Hope to Cure Breast Cancer, the MIPH Walk to End Homelessness, the American Red Cross, various youth Pride Centers and countless others. She also organized Create Change, a peaceful protest through the arts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement during the height of the protests.

“A true artist must do things for survival,” she stated. “I wouldn’t exist without doing what I’m doing.”

Velvet Stardust has enjoyed a regular run at the Stonewall Inn, most recently on March 21. Velvet Stardust’s brilliant mélange of street life and raw libido, a fusion of smoking rock music and immersive burlesque, was in full effect. Visions crafted in the historic gay bar were of a pre-gentrification New York City, as statuesque Brit lead vocalist and host Rose Lucia Corcoran commanded the stage in thigh-high boots and leather bodice. Her wailing renditions of Patti Smith’s “Because the Night,” Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” and a throbbing “I Just Want To Make Love to You” grabbed the very atmosphere by the neck.

(Photo by John Pietaro)

Still, the constantly performing Corcoran whose activity on both coasts can be dizzying, regularly works with fundraising organizations and nonprofits for animal adoption and community efforts. With a compelling, potent vocal range and killer stare, the vocalist’s presence is formidable, leaving one wondering how long before she becomes globally celebrated. And yet, Corcoran’s PR proclaims, “Making integrity glamorous doesn’t usually pay, but in the vivacious case of Ms. Rosie Corcoran, it pays off.”

The show naturally includes a rollicking five-piece band of fluid instrumentalists (with screaming guitar solos by Johnny Knollwood), and a Hannigan-led troupe of utterly incendiary dancers. With little effort, they captured the house at Stonewall, forcing the cheering audience back to the days of “Ford to City: Drop Dead,” as well as the nasty height of club burlesque. But hold on: This is surely not sex for its own prurient sake.

“I needed burlesque to be a part of this project, as both liberation and inspiration for women,” Hannigan explained.

Duly noted. Velvet Stardust and Star Productions are thoroughly female-led organizations.

“It’s important for anyone, but especially for women,” she stressed, “to make such a strong statement.”

Asked about the largely male-dominated industry’s attempts at taking advantage of this small-statured executive, Hannigan slyly added: “There are moments for a tiny-built woman — I don’t like to play that card! — when it can be tough. Some venue managers treat me a certain way — seeing what they could get away with, businesswise. But showing who I am changes that.”

Hear! Hear! Hannigan described how a club manager once grumbled to his staff that “the little one is rude.” Laughing, she said that Corcoran and others in the troupe use this line whenever a rare dispute occurs.

(Photo by John Pietaro)

Velvet Stardust recently had a very successful gig at L.A.’s legendary Whisky a Go Go, and on April 8, they tore it up at Buffalo Iron Works, where the band was booked to meet the total eclipse head-on.

“All of the songs are based in darkness scenes,” Hannigan noted of the eclipse show.

On April 25, Velvet Stardust are playing a private party in Salem, Massachusetts (this sounds about right!). Then, on May 4, they’re headed to Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, for a performance at the Mauch Chunk Opera House. All that, and then on June 1, Starlight Jazz, back home, has a Marilyn Monroe tribute show at the Green Room 42 in Midtown.

“It involves much of our usual band, Knollwood,” she said, “Oren Sarch on piano and keyboards, and bassist Wayne Lyle, as well as a horn section and accordionist and of course drums. Lisa Bouchelle will take on all of the songs that were in Marilyn’s repertoire.”

Bouchelle is a regular vocalist on the performances of both Velvet Stardust and Starlight Jazz.

“She’s an amazing singer, with two songs — ‘Love is for the Making’ and ‘Jump In’ — currently climbing up the Billboard and YouTube charts,” Hannigan noted.

Other regulars with Velvet Stardust are vocalists Ame and Kris Cherry and dancers Deborah Fogo (a powerful aerial dancer who has mastered the art of the whip), E. Cyle Jackson and Anna Archaic. The full list of artists, and the list of subs graced with the designation, have cast an empowering, enticing link to old(er), darker New York at the height of gentrification.

But, even if only for a set, Velvet Stardust and its scorching Rock Show is a must for anyone far too young to recall those times or even those lost in nostalgia. Hell, if they add a bit of No Wave to the mix, I may just get lost in it myself.

If anyone, Velvet Stardust is the key to another epoch.

For more information, see velvetstardustrock on Instagram and Facebook. And, until their next local appearance, be sure to check out the ensemble’s gripping cover of Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly.” And, even more than on that Runaways’ version, you’ll see just how deadly Velvet Stardust can be… .

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