A peek back at the early years of “the aughts” reveals a Las Vegas entertainment scene flying high on the city’s successes of the late ’90s. Angling for the sophisticated tastes of increasingly international audiences, showrooms freely experimented.
The Rio led with off-Broadway productions such as the interactive political theater of De La Guarda (Viva la revolución!) and Penn & Teller (Libertarianism! Gunplay!). Meanwhile, Cirque du Soleil created an elaborate, boundary-pushing sex cabaret, Zumanity.
In today’s economy, selling tickets to challenging productions is more difficult than ever. De La Guarda left after a too-short run. After nine years, Penn & Teller hang tough. And, even though it has been toned down since its first wild months, Zumanity continues to tantalize.
This year marks the seventh for Zumanity, and despite its changes, moments of glorious, uninhibited eroticism still reach out. During the show, when a live band performs smoky jazz as a cross-dressing emcee (Edie, Mistress of Sensuality) playfully teases everyone s/he can get his eyes on, Zumanity reminds us of some less inhibited era—maybe 1920s Paris, maybe 1990s Vegas—when one never knew what naughtiness might happen next. It’s part Henry & June, part Eyes Wide Shut, and all flirty fun for the open-minded.
Zumanity virgins are to be rewarded by arriving early. Aside from getting a profane tongue-lashing from the emcee if you sneak in late, much of the evening’s spontaneity is in the traditional Cirque pre-show, when erotically costumed cast members frolic with the arriving audience. Hiked skirts, hot bodies, the squeezing and rubbing of naughty bits, playful feel-ups, and strawberries fed to guests by the Botero Sisters, Rubenesque, fishnet-clad hostesses. One can almost sense the performers’ tension, almost as if to ask, What might happen if we were to unleash a real, live sex cabaret right here, on this Vegas stage? As for the inhibited, a bar awaits. After all, we’re all just a few cocktails away from simulating sex with a complete stranger on a Las Vegas stage, right?