Saturday, January 17, 2009

This Week's LVW Col: The Headliner That Got Away

Here's this week's Las Vegas Weekly installment. Enjoy.

The Headliner That Got Away
Former Zumanity star Joey Arias should've been Cirque's first marquee star


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.

Read the rest HERE


Anonymous said...

I think you said yourself why Cirque won't use him - "category defying". My impression of Cirque is they are focused on doing shows that are visually focused, and see language as a obstacle. I may be wrong, but I don't see the Las Vegas international audiences from Iowa, India and Indonesia flocking to see a gender bending New York style singer/host. Could you give us a fuller description of your vision?
Jeff in OKC


Jeff - i'm not going to go writing a show for anyone, so no, i can't give a "full vision" because that's not what i do. But successful Cirque itself is already all about surrealism and gender-bending. Who watches the male-male balancing act in Mystere and doesn't get the homoeroticism of it? Maybe on his own Arias couldn't draw on the Strip, but any Cirque production already starts off with a gigantic built in audience willing to try anything they offer. If the show provides something unique and exciting, people will love it.

Seems to me we're a long way past being hypersensitive to the allegedly conservative tastes of certain locales. And, by the by, Asians love gender-bending stuff and have a long tradition of it in their entertainment.

Anonymous said...

Brain bleach, Steve! You've just revived dormant mental images of that creepy Asian duo-contortionist act that used to play in "Jubilee" and has now moved down (the street) to "Folies Bergere."

As for Cirque, the smug attitude displayed by M. Laliberté *et cie* gives me little hope that they'd attempt the kind of envelope-pushing show you suggest. CdS is trying pretty hard to "mainstream" its product (the Beatles, Elvis, Criss F. Angel). Too bad it missed its chance to mount a Danny Gans vehicle ... not!

David McKee

Mike said...

Agree 100 percent. I saw Zumanity toward the end of Arias' run and he had the largely middle-America crowd eating out of his hands. Funny, though: Didn't he take a shot or two at Las Vegas in your book? I don't have the book in my office or I'd look it up.

Tom M. said...

I have never seen Zumanity, but I have enjoyed every Cirque show that I have seen. In reality, this person sounds like a performance artist. No matter how talented, edgy or avant garde the show is, the ultimate question for the casino is can it make money. In order to justify taking up showroom space, the show must make money on its own and/or pull in the type of gambler the casino is looking for. My question is, looking around the room in NYC, do these people like to gamble? My guess is no, but I wasn't there so I don't really know. Whats your take??