Review: ‘Zumanity’

"Zumanity" is the first adults-only show in the long and successful history of Cirque du Soleil, but -- like many teens on their way to maturity -- the show has had its share of growing pains and still has a ways to go before it can stand beside its local previous hits "Mystere" and "O."

“Zumanity” is the first adults-only show in the long and successful history of Cirque du Soleil, but — like many teens on their way to maturity — the show has had its share of growing pains and still has a ways to go before it can stand beside its local previous hits “Mystere” and “O.”

The idea of a sexually based Cirque show grabbed the public’s imagination, and there was intense buzz as the $16 million show began full-price previews in mid-August in its newly renovated $50 million theater in the New York-New York Hotel-Casino.

Show postponed its opening until late September as longtime Cirque choreographer Debra Brown stepped down to be replaced by Marguerite Derricks (“That ’70s Show,” “Austin Powers in Goldmember,” etc.).

Revisions continued right up until the media saw the show on Sept. 20, and Derricks has told the press she has until December to continue fiddling with it. That’s good, because although it has a lot of promise, “Zumanity” still doesn’t deliver the erotic kick it promises.

Many of the individual pieces already work well, with the usual Cirque panache heightened by the intense sexuality of the performers involved.

As always, there’s a fine overall sense of production — here brought home with a world of textured fabrics, smoky colors and sensuous music. Thierry Mugler’s costumes, in particular, are a triumph, bringing out the best in every performer.

In a highlight of the first act, a tall, blond acrobat (Olga Vershinina) is pursued by a midget (Alan Jones Silva). The difference in their heights scores on three levels: as a gymnastic knockout, as a provocative sex game and as a bittersweet dream of consummation between two mismatched partners.

There’s also some material that comes perilously close to the standard X-rated Vegas act, such as Alex Castro’s strip or Elena Gatilova’s bump-and-grind around a TV set.

Ultimately, the problem is not with the individual performers. They are all highly skilled, and the variety of sexual choice on display is surely enough to stimulate any audience member, regardless of proclivity.

The problem lies in what links the material together. There are two elements here, and neither can be deemed successful.

New York drag diva Joey Arias, a longtime fixture of the Gotham club scene, has been given the show’s star role as the Mistress of Ceremonies, and he’s not the best of choices. Arias slinks around dropping zingers and trying to sound enticing, but the space is too big for his throwaway cabaret style, and his onstage persona is too maturely kinky to have a sexual kick for the average audience member.

His role was trimmed during previews, but what remains is still sufficiently prominent to stop the evening from achieving its potential.

The other real problem is the comedy. Sketch group Spymonkey has been imported to perform a series of lengthy and unamusing scenes in which its members begin as 17th-century Puritans, warning of sexual license, and evolve into naked participants in the action. It’s overdone, unnecessary and frankly boring.

Zumanity

New York-New York, Las Vegas; 1,259 seats, $95 top

Production

A Cirque du Soleil production in one act, written and directed by Rene Richard Cyr and Dominic Champagne. Director of creation, Andrew Watson.

Creative

Set, Stephane Roy; costumes, Thierry Mugler; lighting, Luc LaFortune; music and musical direction, Simon Carpentier; choreography, Debra Brown and Marguerite Derricks. Opened, reviewed Sept. 20, 2003. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Cast

With: Joey Arias, Genevieve Dube, Lonnie Gordon, Eliot Douglas, Jean-Francois Houle, Jean-Francois Thibeault, Sebastien Jean, Elena Gatilova, Wassa Coulibay, Johan King Silverhult, Danielle Rueda-Watts, Agnes Roux, AlmuKataB, Antonio Drija, Kinnie Starr, Larry Aberman, Melle Velasquez, Jean-Francois Blais, Anne Charbonneau, Gyulnara Karaeva, Stephan Choiniere, Laetitia Ray, Jesus Villa, Luciene Medeiros, Licema Medeiros, Laurence Jardin, Jonel Earl, Jila Alaghamandan, Alan Jones Silva, Patrick King, Sophie Elisa Ayache, Stephan Kreiss, Aitor Basauri Barruetabena, Petra Massey, Toby Park, Heidi Good, Zorigtkhuyag Bolormaa, Ugo Mazin, Jeronimo Garcia-Cabral Medina, Moukhtar Gusengadzhiev, Daniele Bechard, Olga Vershinina, Alex Castro, Anton Kunikeyev, Sara Joel, Flemming Thomsen, Birgit Thomsen, Vanessa Convery, Jesse Robb, Marcela de la Vega Luna.

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