“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.