Vegas' dirty little secret has crashed into Los Angeles at L.A. Live. Absinthe, an X-rated burlesque of the shows that are produced by Cirque Du Soleil, defies logic as the human body proves that anything's possible. The feats performed feel more raw and dangerous than what's typically seen in polished Cirque shows.
Under the auspices of an oily, foulmouthed ringleader, the Gazillionaire, his awkwardly inappropriate assistant, Daisy Dibbles, and a crew of strikingly gorgeous, ripped athletes defy gravity and the limitations of what muscles, limbs, and tendons can endure to create a spectacular.
The acts are a marvel. Only the first stands out as mildly ordinary, when Edmund the Waiter climbs chairs to the roof. Though most audience members couldn't possibly do it themselves, this sequence feels like a very run-of-the-mill circus act, giving a false impression that the rest of the production will be more of the same.
With every act, however, that impression becomes less true. The cast amazes the audience at every level. A contortionist floats in a large plastic bubble. Four muscular men climb on top of one another, with one flipping in the air as if he were filled with helium. Two roller skaters spin around, appearing like someone hit the fast-forward button, until the female skater is hanging from the male's neck. A large purple balloon engulfs a beautiful woman. Two high-bar artists swing across to opposite poles. A bodyguard strips down to just his tight pants and balances on four black stands.
Each number is emceed by the Gazillionaire and Daisy, complete with jokes to offend everyone — an A.C.L.U. lawyer could make a fortune sitting in the audience with a tape recorder. There are no boundaries. Explicit sexual descriptions, racism, and extreme language are all fair game. These two mock the acrobats with a hilariously askew routine.
Most of the songs are prerecorded modern rock or '50s cocktail lounge music, while several are pulsating renditions by the Absinthe resident musical artist, the Green Fairy, like John Newman's "Love Me Again." The costumes for the emcees appropriately look like they were stolen from a skid-row burlesque house, while the Green Fairy and the stripper Misty West 88th Street's are glittering homages to Gypsy Rose Lee and the other Minsky goddesses. The garish set looks like kids put together a circus tent in the backyard with their stoner neighbors. The hodgepodge locale, with bright-colored lights, is a hallucinogenic.
A nail in the coffin for Ringling Brothers, Absinthe shows what can be done in a scaled-down setting with nothing but talent. Erotic, naughty, and vile, the Gazillionare's circus is a Lewis Carroll-themed rat trap that will leave audiences doubting their own eyes and passing out from holding their breath for 90 heart-pounding minutes.