If Cirque du Soleil is feeling increasingly creaky and kiddie-friendly these days, then the wild, wacky, and deliriously wonderful La Soirée is an effective antidote for circus ennui that serves thrill-seeking audiences of decidedly more adult tastes.
Overflowing with naughty jokes and bawdy banter, La Soirée is a series of comic vignettes, each one a carefully musicalized circus act that offers a unique set of thrills, laughs, or risqué exploits (illusionist Ursula Martinez gets completely naked, and still finds places to hide things). The stunts take place just inches from the audience on a tiny platform at the center of Off Broadway’s Union Square Theatre, transformed into a smoky, velvety cabaret that miraculously fuses the immensity of a Big Top with the intimacy of a speakeasy. It’s circus meets class (or at least the appearance of it).
Any one act could steal the show — maybe it?s the delightfully smarmy English acrobat Hamish McCann who reinvents Gene Kelly’s ”Singin’ in the Rain” lamppost routine in zero gravity; or the dizzy clown Mooky Cornish, whose wide-eyed starlet act is pure gold; or the Freddie Mercury-loving juggler billed as Mario, Queen of the Circus, who ends the show with a rousing stage dive as the entire crowd hypnotically sings ”We Are the Champions.” (Yes, you’ll be on your feet singing by then, too.) But the clear centerpiece of the night is the Bath Boy, an impeccably chiseled Australian by the name of Stephen Williams who performs the sultriest combination of aerial gymnastics and bathtub-based seduction you?ll ever see. Even the rubber duckies get in on the action.
More than just astounding acrobatics, La Soirée — which played New York in 2006 under the title Absinthe: Les Artistes de La Clique — asks the audience to set aside cynicism and simply indulge in the irreverent fun. The seduction stems from the sheer variety of the show’s ever-changing ”dysfunctional family” (as emcee and creative producer Brett Haylock describes the rotating cast). Even the most familiar tricks are pushed past the normal boundaries, and what emerges is a mesmerizing hybrid of sideshow, vaudeville, and burlesque. And though I won’t spoil it, a trick involving a unicycle and an audience member induced one of several jaw-dropping moments of ”Are they really going to do that?” And yes, they really do.
The comedy succeeds, mostly, save for a bizarre second-act song about ethnicity that feels utterly out of place. La Soirée’s pace falters a bit after the unnecessary intermission. Most of the meat is in the first act, and the momentum never quite picks back up, even after you?ve returned with refreshed cocktail in hand. Still, there is an abundance of charm oozing from the cast, who each exude a gleeful passion for their talent (be it sexy, silly, or downright strange). If traditional circus isn?t your thing, you’re in luck. There is nothing traditional about La Soirée. A-