weather icon Clear

Cirque’s sexy, memorable ‘Zumanity’ aging gracefully

"Zumanity" tells us near the end of the show that it celebrates both sensuality and sexuality. One could argue the second is mere biology, but the first is about taking time to savor the details.

The sexy Cirque du Soleil had nine years to get those details right, as celebrated at a recent anniversary performance. Nine isn't a nice round number like 10, but a victory nonetheless. And the years do go by.

Figure that on opening night, Holly Madison was one of the VIP guests in the company of Hugh Hefner. In the course of the "Zumanity" run, Madison became a reality-TV star, left Hef, moved to Las Vegas to compete with "Zumanity" in "Peepshow" for three years, and now is leaving that show to start a family.

"Zumanity" was the third Cirque on the Strip and the first to arrive as a bit of a mess. The problems weren't as dramatic as those that came later with Criss Angel's "Believe" and "Viva Elvis," and neither were the solutions (removing most of the Cirque content from "Believe," closing "Elvis" outright).

And "Zumanity" ages gracefully, retaining many original cast members we still like to see nearly naked. Some of them would be very hard to replace, such as Alan Jones Silva, the little person who takes flight via swaths of fabric to demonstrate his affection for the stage-bound Anna O'Keefe.

And now that we've seen more awkward brand extensions, the basic idea behind "Zumanity" now seems like a solid use of Cirque's core strengths: literalizing metaphors for sex as taking flight and soaring, or as a physical expression that's bolder (and usually way more difficult) than that other physical expression.

The great, memorable moments haven't changed. Young love explored by two women in a giant water bowl (Bolormaa Zorigtkhuyag and Estefania Laurino), or an erotic hand-balancing adagio where Valeriy Simonenko and Katerina Bazarova lose their clothes but not their form as the action heats up.

And then there's the most transgressive piece of nightly theater on the Strip. Jill Crook hangs in the air bound by straps as her autoerotic gasps are amplified to elegiac musical counterpoint.

Towering mistress of ceremonies Edie (Christopher Kenney) drops in just the right mood-setter or jokes: "Sex is beautiful, isn't it?" she coos. "Well it is if you have a partner. Or two." Kenney has now been the hostess longer than the first one, Joey Arias, and the difference between them sums up the show's larger drift from in-your-face edge to softer curves.

"Zumanity" always was a little ahead of its time with its all-embracing, omnisexual reach. Now it does a better job of coaxing you along.

It may seem strange that the crudest raunch is right at the beginning, before the official show begins. Shannan Calcutt and Nicky Dewhurst work the audience with jokes, bananas and appliances that are neither artsy nor poetic: "You want to (have sex with) my wife? It's OK. Everybody does. Everybody has!"

But think about it, and it's pretty smart. What's the American way of talking about sex? Dirty jokes. Get those going early as an ice-breaker and everyone relaxes.

The acrobatic acts were always strong enough in "Zumanity." It was the connective material that always had a hard time balancing its ambitious plate of references: a visual decadence floating somewhere between Fellini's "Satyricon" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," vintage burlesque, cabaret jazz and Vegas-style pole stripping.

Despite a great live band, the music still sometimes seems at odds with the action, and the singers (Paris Red and Corinne Zarzour) are often stuck in a bad place between Cirque's usual wordless wailing and "real" songs that would be more the right idea if they happened to be real songs that were also good.

But all in all, "Zumanity" is still a wonderful little world of its own (the theater itself adds to this), oblivious to the shifting cultural landscape outside. And that world is still wholesomely naughty.

Each show ends with an "orgy" in-the-round that pulls two audience recruits into the action. On opening night, they were from Hefner's entourage. This time, one of them was Steven Legendre, an Oklahoman sitting with other members of the U.S. men's gymnastics team (who attended on their own but were spotted by the cast). He seemed no less happy to be there than the Playmates did.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at
mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Roger Waters melds classic rock, modern concerns

The tour is called “Us + Them” for reasons made very clear. But Roger Waters’ tour stop Friday at T-Mobile Arena also seemed at times to alternate between “us” and “him.”

Mel Brooks makes his Las Vegas debut — at age 91

Comic legend witnessed classic Vegas shows, and his Broadway show ‘The Producers’ played here. But Wynn Las Vegas shows will be his first on stage.