Risque act risky business – Natalie nails Hollywood

Natalie Hugill was ready for Hollywood but was Hollywood ready for Natalie aka Lilly Loca (among other characters) and who describes herself as the consummate mistress of disguise. HELEN PERRY decided to find out.

If anyone is wondering how a Whitford burlesque, cabaret and Vaudeville artist was received at the annual Hollywood Burlesque Festival, where no Kiwi (to our knowledge) has ever performed, well, the answer is, she did good, very good!

In about eight minutes, sandwiched amongst some 80 artists, Natalie Hugill, as drag king Gary Krumbert, talked, danced and impressed beyond her expectations.

Lilly as Gary

“Kiwis are very conservative in their praise whereas Americans proved extremely forthcoming.

“My act – which I devised back in 2013 – was two before interval on the festival’s first night and during the break so many people abandoned their seats, rushing forward to say how funny it was.

“Their loud, verbal enthusiasm was a bit overwhelming. They said things like, ‘you were hilarious’ ‘we just loved your act’ and everyone wanted to know where I was from. When I said, ‘New Zealand’ the interest was huge but best of all there were so many invites to return to the States for this or that event and I’d love to go back.

“Actually, I was a bit shocked at how open Americans were to burlesque acts. Some other acts of mine, which are a bit more risqué, can sometimes be hit and miss with Kiwi audiences which are generally a lot more conservative.”

After such a successful three-day event, Natalie, who runs her own production company – Va-Va-Voom Productions with its tagline, “Putting the Va-Va-Voom into Vaudeville – says she now has her sights set on the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend in Las Vegas next year.

“It’s a big event with workshops as well as shows. I’ve applied in the past and wasn’t accepted. It’s very competitive, people apply from all over the world and so far no Kiwis have been accepted. But I’ll definitely be applying again next year.”

While she dreams of making it to the Hall of Fame, Natalie has had little time to relax. Leading up to her departure ‘Lilly’ performed in two local shows included an appearance in Maison de Tease at The Lounge in Howick as well as presenting her own show, Bananarama, at Uxbridge Arts and Culture.

Then it was hard out rehearsing for the Grand Tease competition in Hamilton, one of three regional heats before the upcoming final. Lilly was up against eight other competitors and took out the titled being named Grand Tease Hamilton 2017 winner. Also awarded ‘Most Innovative’, ‘Most Creative’, ‘Most Comedic’ and ‘Best Costume’, she says it was overwhelming and all so unexpected. “I was ecstatic!.”

Her win gave her automatic entry into the Grand Tease final in Christchurch on August 19 where she will compete alongside other regional winners for the national title of Supreme Grand Tease.

“I’ve never really had time for competition work but this is a big event in New Zealand and I’m determined to give the final my best shot. I’m working so hard to bring it all together so I’m keeping fingers crossed for the big night.”

Of course, between shows and rehearsing, Natalie has had all the usual demands that come with being a wife and mother.

When EastLife first interviewed and featured her alter ego, Lilly Loca, on the front page (see EastLife, March 2014, pages 20-21) Natalie who was pregnant at the time, has become mum to Aria now nearly three years old.

“It’s not always easy doing the balancing act but performing is my life, my career, and I’m really at home on the stage.

“For many years I learnt Latin American and ballroom dancing, reaching silver bar level, which provided me with the basis to dance moves.

“Later, when performing for the first time internationally at the Australian Burlesque Festival in 2015, I realised I could stand next to international performers on stage not knowing what outcome to expect and get some wonderful reviews.

“For me it’s about constantly learning otherwise, creatively, I would die. I look back on where I was two years ago and where I am now and I’m amazed.”
Although she admits to her fair share of career falls, Natalie says New Zealand offers chances many other countries don’t.

“Hollywood may be wonderful but it is a city of broken dreams. Wherever you go people introduce themselves as an actor or a performer; they constantly hand out their audition tapes, or are reading audition scripts but the chances of making it big are slim; it’s a very big pool of talent.

“On the other hand, New Zealand is such a small country so if you are talented and you have tenacity and drive you can succeed. That’s part of why I love it here but Hollywood, well Hollywood was amazing and it can recharge you like nothing else. So, roll on Burlesque Hall of Fame!”