Former Zumanity star Joey Arias should've been Cirque's first marquee star
By STEVE FRIESS
I am one of just 70 people packed into an air-conditioning-less basement at an “experimental” theater in SoHo watching a gargantuan, nearly naked gender-bender stomping through a miniature set of New York City, à la Godzilla. At one point, much to the crowd’s uproarious pleasure, this monster taking Manhattan actually bites into and swallows the top of a skyscraper, the ultimate in chewing the scenery.
It is merely one outrageously campy, brilliant scene in a show that theatrically announces Andy Warhol pal Joey Arias’ triumphant return to his New York universe after five years as the hostess-with-the-moistest in Cirque du Soleil’s risqué revue Zumanity. In Arias With a Twist, the Greenwich Village legend is dropped back to Earth after being abducted for years by space aliens who, we may infer, are meant to allegorically represent the Cirque folks and Las Vegas itself.
In the show, which cost Arias and co-producer/puppeteering maestro Basil Twist about $100,000 to stage, Arias gets to do all the things onstage he really couldn’t do in the tightly scripted Cirque production still playing at New York-New York. He is at turns ridiculous, as when the aliens pleasurably probe him or when massive phalluses flail on gigantic puppets, and sincere, as when he puts his respected smoky voice to work on “All By Myself” and “You’ve Changed.” The result is a sold-out eight-month run that ended on New Year’s Eve as well as the glowing embrace of New York Times critic Ben Brantley, who opened his June review thusly: “Eat your heart out, Madonna.”
“Can you imagine this show in Vegas?” Arias cackles later over dinner at a nearby haunt, even as it’s clear he can.
And, in fact, so can I. In fact, the very reason I decided I needed to see Arias’ off-the-wall production while I was in New York last month was to confirm something I believed from the first time I learned of Arias back in 2003: Cirque missed an amazing chance when it had him in its clutches.Joey Arias, not Criss Angel, should have been Cirque du Soleil’s first marquee headline performer.
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