April 1 was INDEED a day for foolishness and frivolity, marking another gala premiere night for a show on the Strip. Seats were jammed with casino execs, production insiders, local celebs and media in a—get this—tent situated between Serendipity 3 and Caesars Palace. That was my first clue that Absinthe will stand out in today’s Cirque-dominated entertainment scene.
On the surface, it’s not that different, since Absinthe appears to borrow Cirque’s cabaret-circus-variety format and two characters from Zumanity, which also boasts a quirky, self-absorbed geek-Lothario and a kooky girl fond of retro-dresses who flashes her perverted streak. But Absinthe’s ringmaster is a fire-breathing Don Rickles to the competition’s low-key Pepe Le Pew. Indeed, the Armenian-born Gazillionaire is a dirty-minded ringmaster with insulting zingers at the ready, which he generously hurls at the front rows (and on gala night at UFC fighter Frank Mir). While Zumanity celebrates the human form by coddling the audience’s body image, the Gazillionaire and his assistant Penny (whose raunchy sock-puppet show is a high point) have no such ambition. Instead, they prefer to verbally grind on the audience to funny effect between performances. (None of the victims could stop laughing.) And what performances! There’s a mind-boggling chair-balancing act, a whiplash-inducing roller-skating duet (the Skating Aratas) that careens madly on a circular stage no bigger than a dinner table, a balloon artist who allows her balloon to swallow her whole, and the breathtaking Esteemed Gentlemen of the High Wire for whom a mere wire is an insufficient challenge. Their unhinged keg stand will leave the hairs on your neck standing in alarm. Sure, a few acts seemed borrowed from or a tad derivative of Cirque or even V: The Ultimate Variety Show at the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood. But these lesser moments remain a pleasure to behold in the Spiegeltent’s intimate and unique environment. (Note: The tent is nestled in a spectacularly quirky beer garden, which I’m told is open to the public and which you certainly should check out. You need a ticket to enter the tent proper and enjoy the show.) Come-hither torch singer-cum-dancer The Green Fairy is another highlight.
I definitely want to imbibe Absinthe again, next time with visiting friends eager for a taste of outré Vegas on the Strip. Got to hand it to Caesars—they’ve added a show with imagination and spark to their entertainment offerings, and it’s the ideal counterbalance to the Celine juggernaut. Admission is $69? How (in)appropriate.