Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Zumanity’ at New York, New York in Las Vegas – A Review

In Zumanity, Cirque du Soleil lets its hair down, along with its pants and, quite often, its sense of good taste. The result is a mixed bag — a spirited show that tries so hard to be what Cirque has never been (dirty) that it skimps on what Cirque has always been (magically transporting).

In an intimate (if any Cirque show can truly be called intimate) Vegas lounge setting at the New York – New York Casino we are treated to a pared down display of Cirque’s trademark aerial and acrobatic prowess, most of it performed by topless women.

This is the part of the show that works best. Two contortionists performing on a the rim of a large glass bowl of water (or is it a small swimming pool?) are enchanting. A lissome lass twirling an armful of glittering hula hoops as she is lofted into the stratosphere is a lot of fun. Best of all is a number in which a willlowy woman and an incredibly buff male midget soar over the audience on billowing ribbons of white cloth. This is pure Cirque and the brief costumes ar rather beside the point and quickly forgotten.

As so often happens in human endeavors, it’s the sex that trips them up. For those hoping for one of those “all nude reviews,” forget about it. If you want to see full frontal (not mention dorsal) nudity, you will have to head for Broadway in the real New York where shows like Take Me Out regularly display the human form in all its unashamed glory.

In Zumanity, all bets are hedged. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but clearly some things that happen in Vegas can get you put in jail. So, in deference to local ordinances, total nudity is coyly and steadfastly avoided, often to ludicrous effect. In one number, the gals wear body stockings with painted on nipples and false pubic hair, while the lone guy has a g-string sporting fake genitalia.

It reminds you, if even subliminally, that for all its pretense to “let it all hang out” Zumanity keeps some things safely tucked away. The result is to make the total honesty about human sexuality to which the show ostensibly aspires seem hollow and hypocritical.

Some effort seems to have been made to make the show shocking, from the gravel voiced drag queen who serves as mistress of ceremonies to a tall, cadaverous, wasp-waisted adrogyne with a golden strap-on phallus. And yet, for all of the theatrical inventiveness that has illuminated so many Cirque shows, here they seldom rise above the cliche. The humor tends to be smirky and smutty without being truly funny and much of the banter with the audience seems to be forced.

In fairness, I should point out that I may have been the only one in the audience to have these curmudgeonly thoughts and whenever I allowed myself to get down off my high horse, I had a perfectly good, if not particularly erotic, time.

The bodies on display are, indeed, lovely. The girls are on the petite size (hey, when was the last time you saw a contortionist with a D cup?), but the guys are all pumped up and cut to a fare-thee-well, making Zumanity a good alternative to the Chippendales show for the distaff side.

Given the relatively small scale of this show and the fact that most of the action takes place at floor level, this is one Cirque show where getting close to the stage pays off. Your eyes may pop out, but you won’t have to crane your neck.

Zumanity will no doubt run forever. Tickets are $76 to $142. For more information call 866-606-7111, 702-740-6815, or log on to www.cirquedusoleil.com. Tickets are available three months in advance.

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