Monday, Dec. 22, 2008 | 2 a.m.
IF YOU GO
What: “Zumanity” by Cirque du Soleil
When: 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday through Sunday (dark Monday and Thursday)
Where: The Zumanity Theatre, New York-New York
Admission: $69-$99, duo sofas for two: $129 per person; 740-6815, www.nynyhotelcasino.com
Running time: 90 minutes
Audience advisory: 18 and over; fog and strobe effects, near nudity
Sun critic Joe Brown is visiting and revisiting every Cirque du Soleil show on the Strip. His reviews will appear on Mondays in the Las Vegas Sun and at www.lasvegassun.com.
Up next: “The Beatles: Love” at the Mirage, on Jan. 5
Beyond the Sun
Maybe “Zumanity” isn’t Cirque du Soleil’s best-selling resident show on the Vegas Strip.
But it certainly is the best-smelling.
Near the opening of the show, a performer sweeps through the center aisle, trailing an enormous billowing cape — and a captivating fragrance. “Zumanity” is an arousing, amusing appeal to each of the senses.
A contemporary burlesque, the 18-and-over revue at New York-New York is Cirque du Softcore, a risque, frisque kinky-winky at the multiracial, pansexual human menagerie and our assorted desires.
Americans can be so serious and squeamish about sex — it sometimes seems we’re partisan about our pleasures, puritans versus libertines. Other parts of the world (I’m looking at you, Brazil and Western Europe) know that sex can be fun. And funny. And friendly.
Subtitled “The Sensual Side of Cirque du Soleil,” the anatomically correct “Zumanity” is not a sex show — it’s a variety show inspired by sex in all its variety. It’s not nearly as nekked as some might fear (or hope). Yes, there’s lots of toplessness, female and male, but no nudity in the genital sense. The costumers work ingenious variations on pasties and thongs and codpieces (oh my!) and one very comical dangly prosthetic.
Humans have bodies, some of them extraordinary, and luckily, many of these end up employed in Cirque shows. “Zumanity” playfully parades a panoply of body types — tiny, towering, big, small. Bulges and curves are exaggerated and emphasized — everybody in this ensemble is stacked, jacked and packin’.
Performers interact occasionally with willing audience members (you can discreetly decline), and if you’re the sort that’s inclined to play along, here’s a word to the wise: Wear nice shoes (and clean undies, of course).
Ideally, you want to arrive at New York-New York about an hour before curtain, allowing time to explore the nooks and crannies (and peepholes) of the remarkable theater. Styled as a Viennese cabaret, with art nouveau flourishes and metalwork, it invites touch: The walls are soft, curvy and plushy, and one of the bars is situated in a boudoir. The ticket-takers and ushers wear sheer-backed dresses revealing black lingerie, and the gift shop is stocked with amusing stuff such as “Spank Me” coupons, panties, thongs and masks.
Along with aerialists and acrobats, clowning with the audience is a Cirque standard, and the preshow for “Zumanity” (let’s call it what it is: foreplay) is not to be missed, as it warms and loosens up the crowd until the place feels like a particularly sophisticated bachelor/ette party. The racy fun is presided over by an unctuous gigolo who flirts with anything that moves, and two sister clowns, rounded like women painted by Botero, who squeeze through the aisles proffering strawberries and more than a little body contact.
Other than the abundance of flesh, “Zumanity” differs from other, nearly wordless Cirque shows in that it is spoken and sung in English (with a liberal sprinkling of polyglot naughty phrases).
A series of 14 acts appears on the tongue-shaped thrust stage (that’s the technical term for it), each introduced by a ringmistress, the statuesque hostess Edie, in a black bouffant, spangled minidress, fishnets and strappy heels. She’s a classically sassy glamour gal, in the mode of Rosalind Russell, with perhaps a few extra inches. Let’s just say that’s Edie’s a far better illusionist than the other one more famously in Cirque’s employ — even Edie was amused when some audience members clearly didn’t get what makes her so special.
There are multiple variations on the classic striptease, of course, but there are plenty of Cirque-ular specialties. Two sleek women splash and slip around each other in a transparent goblet. Wearing a schoolgirl outfit that has obviously shrunk in the wash, another minx shimmies silvery Hula-Hoops up and down her torso like an armload of bangles. A very fit gent clad only in boxer shorts and gartered socks elastically twists himself into impossible shapes.
The aerialists bring new twists to the word swingers, in particular, a fiery redhead who entwines herself in a web of bondage ropes, accompanied by a soundtrack of moist whispers.
“Zumanity” makes a point of offering multiple combinations of genders and colors. A man-on-man duet in black and white is played out in a cage (or playpen), a battle/ballet which, among other things, makes explicit the subtext of mixed martial arts. It’s all about voyeurism: While we’re watching the performers, they in turn are watching each other — and us — from balconies and sinuously spiral staircases. It’s all very “Eyes Wide Shut,” but in a good way.
There’s a lot of laughs in “Zumanity,” where the clowns resemble such vintage Vegas bawdy “blue” comics as Rusty Warren. Playing on a movable bridge above the stage, the musicians create a surround-soundscape that throbs and pulses with techno rhythms and occasionally gets a bit over-saxed, like the soundtrack to a “Skinemax” late-night movie.
“Zumanity” received mixed reactions when it opened in 2003, but in the meantime Cirque seems to have fixed whatever wasn’t working. Or perhaps, and this is more likely, some critics weren’t open to the idea of a sexed-up Cirque on the Strip.
So caveat emptor: If you know yourself to be rigid or frigid about sex, do yourself a favor and pick another Cirque show (or Donny & Marie — that’s what they’re here for) — and spare the people seated near you your flinching and grunts of disgust and huffy walkouts. We get it: You would never do that. Not that anyone’s asking you to.
Or you could unclench or unbunch, maybe learn a new trick or two and enjoy yourself — and others. That’s what “Zumanity” means.