Zumanity by Cirque du Soleil
At a Glance
What is it?
An adult-themed production from Cirque du Soleil that celebrates all manners of human sexuality.
Where is it?
In a gorgeous theater at New York-New York on the South Strip.
Is it worth the cost?
If you want a little titillation with your Cirque experience, then yes.
Why should I see this show?
Because it’s a lot better than it used to be.
What else do I need to know?
A 2015 revamp improved just about every aspect of the show.
What’s the bottom line?
Finally as sexy as it has always wanted to be.
Anyone who has seen a Vegas Cirque du Soleil show can probably attest to the fact that the company knows “sexy.” Portions of those shows are downright erotic in a way that doesn’t pander or talk down to the audience so it seemed like a natural extension of that ethos to develop an entire show immersed in sexuality and a celebration of same. That was the theory behind Zumanity, the Cirque du Soleil production playing at New York-New York since August of 2003.
When I first saw this show shortly after it opened, I was unimpressed to say the least. Somewhere between the theory and the reality the concept of what is truly sexy got lost along the way and Zumanity wound up failing to rise to the challenge in more ways than one. Instead of titillating we got tacky; instead of naughty we got nasty; instead of erotic we got “ewww.” Instead of aspiring to the relative class of “Playboy,” it was what the magazine “Hustler” would be if it Larry Flynt could turn it into a musical.
Then along came Absinthe, the dirty circus that succeeds because it isn’t trying to be classy – it wants to be crass and it is. Zumanity wanted to be classy but wound up being crass in cringe-worthy ways.
So now Zumanity has pivoted, evolving as most long-running shows in Las Vegas do, most recently with a substantial revamp in early 2015. I’m happy to report that it has improved dramatically.
Happily, one of the best parts of the show, the force behind the ringmaster of this particular circus known as the Mistress of Sensuality, has been held over and it makes a big difference from the get go. For years it was led by legendary female impersonator Joey Arias, but she was replaced by popular drag queen Miss Edie a while back. The difference between female impersonator and drag queen is not a subtle one and Edie brings some much needed levity and camp to the proceedings. It’s a lot more fun with her at the helm.
Like other Cirque productions, Zumanity is a blend of avant-garde theater and circus-style acrobatics only here many are staged with an eye toward sex and some of its various permutations. There are topless contortionists swimming in a glass bowl, a woman doing a variation on the silks aerialist using bondage straps instead, a barely clothed couple doing some intense gymnastics (and no that’s not a euphemism), a twosome in a tub that turns into a threesome, and a couple of guys in heels doing an aggressive ballroom-style dance in a giant cage as a few examples.
The show bills itself as a celebration of all forms of human sexuality and boy oh boy are there a lot of them included here. Men with women, men with men, women with women, masochism, auto-asphyxiation, self-gratification, simulated orgies, certain… um…. “devices” for lack of a better word… strippers, and costumes (French Maid anyone?) are just a few of diversions featured in the show.
And then there are other acts that only hint or toy with the sensual aspect of things. The guy that spins around in what amount to giant hula-hoops starts out with some sexy silhouettes but eventually is just a guy spinning around in a giant hula-hoop, which is cool and impressive but not exactly sexy. Ditto the contortionist, the hand-balancer, and the African dance routine. Not sure exactly what they have to do with sex or sensuality, but they’re fun to watch anyway.
Thankfully, most of the truly vulgar bits that made up the bulk of the original show have been excised. The comic relief bridge acts with a randy married couple offering up advice on everything from do-it-yourself breast implants to some inept seduction techniques are quite funny. Just do your best to avoid being chosen out of the audience to come up on stage – you’ll thank me later.
For most of its run, Zumanity failed by trying too hard to be provocative. The people and the things that are truly “sexy” don’t need to work so hard to be that way – they just are. Catherine Zeta-Jones is sexy in a way that almost dares you to not look at her. Miley Cyrus tries to be sexy by begging you to look at her and more often than not doesn’t succeed.
This new incarnation of Zumanity may not exactly be Zeta-Jones, but it’s a lot closer to her than it is to Cyrus and that alone is an achievement. Absinthe has cornered the market on dementedly crass and now Zumanity can take claim the sexy high ground with delicious class. It has finally become the titillating, naughty, and erotic spectacle that it always wanted to be.