Dancing in the moonlight: Paulina Productions transforms a brewery space into a lush cabaret

We’ve been a bit preoccupied with the moon lately, what with its recent eclipsing of the sun, the planned Artemis lunar landing and the federal government’s request that the moon get its own time zone.  

But since ancient times, the moon has been believed to control our fertility, predict our fortunes and even drive us crazy. Its association with the feminine and divine was Marla Paulina Richardson’s inspiration to create Moonlight: Electro Burlesque With the Moon Muses, currently running twice monthly at Reno’s Lead Dog Brewing Taproom. 

The dancer/singer/choreographer, who goes by Marla Paulina in her creative endeavors, is a Reno native who’s been dancing since age 3. After completing her dance studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, she began auditioning for productions here and around the country, performing in shows at casinos here and in Atlantic City, as well as venues such as the Magic Castle in Hollywood.  

“For about 10 years, that was my life—full-time dancing in heels in casinos every night,” said Paulina, who is 35. 

Of course, COVID-19 changed everything, bringing an end to performing arts productions, particularly the big casino shows. Yet the break gave her time to be thoughtful about her next move and be realistic about her physical limits. 

“When shows started dying off, I was sad about it, but I also was excited to transition into singing more,” she said. “I was getting older. I was in my 30s and getting knee injuries. I didn’t know if there was longevity in my dance career, and I really wanted to keep performing.” 

A trained singer with relatives who’d sung professionally, she opted to follow that passion when making her next move. 

“I wanted to put together a small, underground theater production that would work with the 50-person maximum-capacity rule we had at the time,” she said. She initially did shows at The Office of Hughes and Porter, a downtown Reno bar. It was the ideal intimate venue. 

At first, it was tough finding willing dancers, as many of them had stepped away from performing to concentrate on other pursuits. But thanks to word of mouth among her Reno-area dance connections, she managed to assemble a small troupe, and Paulina Productions was born. She rearranged the bar’s furniture and brought in some aerial rigging, additional lighting and an improved sound system, and premiered her new company’s first show, with herself as choreographer and singer, in the summer of 2021. Acts included aerialists, live music from a guitarist and saxophonist, and dance featuring classic Reno burlesque aspects. 

The intent was to present only a handful of shows, but every performance sold out, so she extended it to 13. With that success under their belts and theaters fully open without caps on capacity, the company went on to produce a Moulin Rouge-style musical the following year, renting space at local theaters on nights when they were dark. While this allowed for more ticket sales and better overall production values, theaters’ sparse and unpredictable availability made them less than ideal.  

Fortunately, this season’s show, the company’s third, was the charm. On a friend’s recommendation, Paulina approached the entertainment manager at Lead Dog, and soon the taproom’s expansive back room became home to Paulina Productions on the second Wednesday and last Friday of the month. Moonlight opened this winter, receiving a boost from a dressing area and lighting provided by Lead Dog, as well as a lifted stage and a bar on which dancers perform.  

“We had scheduled it to run through April 26,” Paulina said, “but we have been selling out (with) standing-room only every single show.” Thanks to high demand, the show was extended until July. She hopes to also arrange an Artown encore performance. 

Paulina admits she’s wrestled with the “burlesque” label because of its often-negative, amateurish and crass connotations. Paulina is committed to presenting her version as a polished, professional art form. Indeed, the burlesque of Moonlight alludes to the medium’s more glamorous origins. The performances, while sensual in nature, aren’t baldly sexual; they’re instead meant to tastefully showcase the artistry of dance and the beauty and skill of the performers’ bodies. 

Moonlight is a revue comprised of a variety of acts that loosely follow the lunar theme, with acts ranging from songs performed by Paulina and company member Savannah Bishop to high-energy dance numbers performed in lavish costumes; impressive acrobatics; and a thumping soundscape of house music provided by DJ Maribel Garcia, with elements of burlesque woven throughout. The venue’s spatial arrangement enables a high level of intimacy with the performers, or “moon muses,” who frequently interact with and get close to the audience.  

Though the company is largely made up of women, it features a few males and even a canine—Miss Bianca, dancer Carly Roberts’ Lhasa Apso, who utterly charms audiences by docilely allowing herself to be dressed up, held, squeezed and cooed over. Altogether, the production is electrifying, visually beautiful—and a whole lot of fun. 

Moonlight is performed at various dates at Lead Dog Brewing, 415 E. Fourth St., in Reno. Tickets, available via Eventbrite, start at $30. For more information, follow Paulina Productions at www.facebook.com/moonmusesencored or www.instagram.com/paulina__productions.