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November 24, 2017

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With Sabina Kelley, ‘Pin Up’ exhibits some Vegas ink


L.E. Baskow

Sabina Kelley is led by coach Claire Sinclair during a dance routine rehearsal for Pin Up at the Stratosphere Theater on Friday, May 23, 2014.

Claire Sinclair and Guest Sabina Kelley

(From right) Claire Sinclair coaches Sabina Kelley as her understudy in a tabletop number for Pin Up at the Stratosphere Theater on Friday, May 23, 2014. Launch slideshow »
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Sabina Kelley shows off her finger tattoos on the stage of Pin Up as the understudy for Claire Sinclair at the Stratosphere Theater on Friday, May 23, 2014.

I’ve long held this opinions about tattoos: Those who like tattoos really like tattoos. They just can’t get enough tattoos. The tattooed among us gravitate to one another, travel in clusters and have built a sizable and healthy culture where tattoos are widely accepted as high art. Body art, specifically.

And Sabina Kelley, well, she’s a pretty wonderful canvas. Her arms, neck and back have been painted heavily and beautifully, and the more you gaze, the more you see. There are a pair of cherries, a set of brass knuckles inlaid with hearts, a dove on descent and, across her knuckles, letters spelling “HAUS WIFE.”

That’s a dig at her ex-husband, who once told Kelley he wanted her to stay at home and assume the role of housewife. Kelley, who is part German, ordered up those words on her hands, which are easily legible when she points her fists at you.

Kelley is no doubt a major figure in the inked-up, rockabilly world of burlesque and a highly popular pinup model who serves as a judge on the Oxygen show “Best Ink,” a competition show featuring tattoo artists from across the country. She also is a former dancer, and a highly capable one, who performed for 2 1/2 years in “Jubilee!” at Bally’s from 1998-2000. This resume and skill set, and also her friendship with Claire Sinclair, has led her to a guest-starring role in the Sinclair showcase “Pin Up” at the Stratosphere.

Kelley is filling in for Sinclair from July 24-31, when the show’s regular center performer is at Comic-Con in San Diego promoting her new comic book, “Wondrous: The Adventures of Claire Sinclair.” These performances mark the first time the show has been performed without Sinclair onstage. She has admirably appeared regularly for more than a year, without a swing, but saw a chance to expand the show’s audience by asking Kelley if she’d be interested in filling in.

“I have a dance background that not a lot of people know about,” Kelley said during a break in rehearsals at the Strat on Friday afternoon. “They have not seen me perform, and it’ll be a fun way to get back onstage as a dancer and show a different version of what a pinup can be.”

Added Sinclair, seated at the same round table in the hotel’s showroom: “Sabina has a huge fan base in the rockabilly world, and a lot of people know her from the TV show. I think we’ll have sellouts every night she performs.”

The show’s co-producer and director, Drew DiCostanza, said the production has already celebrated one version of a pinup model — Sinclair, the 2011 Playboy Playmate of the Year. Now, he said, “people will get to see the other side.”

The painted side, specifically. Though the two performers share about the same physical dimensions (without getting into specific numbers, they are both tall and curvy) and can share many of the show’s costumes, Sinclair and Kelley are totally unalike when they strip to skin. Kelley has been painted by a half-dozen artists since she was a teenager; her first tattoo is of a blazing horseshoe, the number 13 and a swallow. You can still see that one on the back of her neck.

As for Sinclair …

“I have no tattoos,” she said, “but I have been thinking of getting a little one behind my ear. It’d be sort of a secret tattoo.”

The casting strategy with “Pin Up” is, obviously, to generate some buzz about the show and gain national notoriety by summoning a judge on a national cable TV show. But the production seems not to be sacrificing artistically. Having survived one of the most demanding dance shows on the planet, “Jubilee!,” certainly qualifies Kelley to sashay through the calendar in “Pin Up.”

A new opening number is being designed just for Kelley, and the traditional burlesque routine of tassel twirling is being taught to both stars. And know this about burlesque fans: They are acutely discriminate about traditional acts. To be considered a true burlesque show, tassel twirling needs to be in the performance.

As for tattoos, they are readily accepted and celebrated, too.

“I think they are beautiful,” Kelley said, stretching her colorful arm to illustrate her point. “I love looking at them.” The team behind “Pin Up” hopes ticket-buyers feel the same way.

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