082408thisisburlesque.jpgPhoto courtesy Don Spiro.

Robert Murray, the 18th century merchant for whom the neighborhood of Murray Hill takes its name, might be troubled to see that his family's legacy has been reduced to a fratastic cluster of post-collegiate quasi-dorms. But his ghost can also take comfort knowing that for the past decade or so a comic lounge singer in Rat Pack drag has made the name certifiably applause-worthy. Of course, being a Quaker, it might take Robert Murray's ghost a drink or five to warm up to Murray Hill's ribald shtick. His audience at Corio Friday night, on the other hand, was roaring with laughter even as they sipped their first "Pink Tassel" martinis.

Hill's improvisational skills have sharpened noticeably since I last saw him at the Slipper Room around the turn of the century. Taking the stage for his regular emceeing gig at This is Burlesque, Hill -- introduced as "the man who makes polyester somewhat breathable" -- promptly went to work on a group of badly dressed Australian dudes crowded together in front the stage, needling them about their lack of dates and latent homosexuality. Within five minutes, Hill turned most of the audience into his supporting cast, playing the luckless Aussies off a lewd bachelorette party and a random guy from Glasgow. After coaxing out their peculiar personal details with a notable lack of nastiness, he finally concluded, "When I feel like the most normal person in the room there's a problem."

It's something when a butch drag king portraying a corpulent "show biz" cut-up can almost upstage beautiful dancing showgirls. The two act This is Burlesque extravaganza is full of the neo-burlesque action that can sometimes be a bit long on cellulite and short on imagination, but here it's staged professionally by some of the loveliest talents in town. Melody Sweets, whose voice geeks will recognize from her songs in Grand Theft Auto 4, delivered the show-stopping, reefer striptease "I Want to Marry Wanna," reappearing for several other swinging numbers. And the "World Famous" Pontani sisters, who headline the revue, took the stage again and again, alone and as a trio, in various elaborate costumes which artfully succumbed to gravity. By the time Angie Pontani slinked out of a giant oyster shell for her mesmerizing finale, anybody who walked in wondering, "What is burlesque?" had their definitive answer.

This is Burlesque is in an open run at Corio [337 West Broadway at Grand Street]. Tickets.