To understand Absinthe, a carnival burlesque production that debuts at Caesars Palace this week, you need to understand its star, The Gazillionaire.
First of all, he never breaks character, not even when an entertainment writer (such as this one) asks deadly serious questions. He’s witty, dark-minded and politically incorrect. He looks ripped from the casting audition of a Tom Waits music video. His fashion sense is pure Borat—greasy hair, gaudy jewelry and a gold tooth that looks like it was installed by a Third World dentist. In sum, The Gazillionaire is the ideal host for a show involving top-class acrobats, beautiful bondage artists, the gamest go-go dancers, glass-shattering singers and other raucous acts in a tent with a speakeasy attached. He’s a true, weird ringmaster.
“I don’t really plan anything, and nothing is written,” he says while giving a personal tour of the European spiegeltent, a wooden structure adorned with mirrors and velvet now ensconced in the Roman Plaza in front of Caesars. “My assistant, Penny, is with me onstage to make sure I stay in line. But I don’t really care about the flow of the show, at least theatrically. I’m here to welcome everyone, whether gay, lesbian, foreign or just Republicans with lots of money, and make sure they stick around.”
There’s an energetic, confident, everything-and-anything goes quality to how The Gazillionaire describes Absinthe. He’s a person seemingly devoid of any of the pressures related to opening a show on Strip, much less on the boot heels of his neighbor, the formidable Celine Dion.
“I’m drunk, so that helps,” he says. “Actually, the show is so honest and loose you can’t really fuck it up. It’s like a party with a show going on at the same time.”
The Gazillionaire is all too eager to have me sample one of the many drinking games that comprise a critical component of the “Garden of Delight” area (behind Serendipity 3). The area is open to the non-ticketed public, and ticketholders can also ostensibly gather to imbibe before taking their seats in the tent. The games include “Dom (as in Pérignon) Pong,” like beer pong but with champagne, and another activity that involves shuffleboard. There’s a secretive, speakeasy lounge, which can only be entered by dialing the correct number on a nearby pay phone. There’s also a straight-up Irish bar for alcohol enthusiasts. Indeed, imbibing on a massive level seems vital to The Gazillionaire, who says he drinks for health reasons.
“They say Scotch is good for hydration,” he insists, pulling out an old-school handkerchief to wipe his brow even though it’s not yet warm. “If you drink enough of it, water gets into the body. I’m feeling all right in the desert, anyway.”
The air-conditioned tent should help. Seriously, though, The Gazillionaire says he wants to put on a “really fun, crazy show.” Something unique, sexy, stupid and very intimate. “You see everything in the show, because every seat is close to the stage.”
Definitely close. Once you step right up and pay $69 admission, you enter a tent that holds 600 with circular seating and a small stage in-the-round; the stage is so small and the seats so close that audience members’ knees will brush up against the action. “You’re guaranteed to catch a whiff of eau de testicule, if you know what I mean,” The Gazillionaire says.
Since it’s a glorified party, the strict rules of most Strip shows are eased. “Acrobats are cheap,” he shrugs. “I don’t care if you take pictures and the performers fall down. If we get a photo on Facebook and it helps to sell a few more tickets, I’m all for it. If you capture an acrobat falling midair and the flash works, even better!”
Absinthe, which has already conquered New York and Miami, has secured a six-month run at Caesars. The show boasts a reputation for its outlandish, sensual, entertaining content, and for its wonderfully odd characters in addition to Penny—Green Fairy, Butler Max, Weather Girl, Princess Fox-Anna, and the Vestal Virgins. The New York Times said the Absinthe experience is akin to “Cirque channeled through Rocky Horror.” But it’s probably more accurate to characterize the show as an Old World gypsy-rock ’n’ roll circus-style vaudeville as imagined by Gogol Bordello and DeVotchKa. The Gazillionaire seems confident that his unusual show will triumph in Vegas.
Well, OK. But there may be another reason The Gazillionaire seems poised: He has performed in Las Vegas before. A former Cirque clown who also goes by Voki Kalfayan, he toyed with an Absinthe prototype four years ago at the Aruba Hotel. Then called The Gazillionaire Show, it earned an encouraging review in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
While The Gazillionaire’s crudity has likely not diminished since then, his financial backing sure has expanded. His new show is a joint venture courtesy of BASE Entertainment (which handles Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular and Jersey Boys) and Spiegelworld (which unleashed Absinthe in other markets). So there’s an established track record of success in The Gazillionaire’s favor.
After several random tangents discussing the musical he’s working on called Jersey Shore Boys, his Twitter feed full of photos of women’s breasts and his YouTubed encounter with The Situation, The Gazillionaire plays it almost straight: “I invite everyone to come down to the show, because it’s the best in the world,” he says, a twinkle of mischief in his eye. “The people of Las Vegas are in for a treat.”
Spoken like a true ringmaster.
Absinthe premieres April 1, Tue-Sun, times vary, $69-$99, 800-745-3000, in front of Caesars Palace, AbsintheVegas.com.