By Nicole Davis
When Spiegelworld took up its summer residence at the South Street Seaport last year, it was hard to believe the tented venue would live up to the picture the press releases painted. Among their promises were performers like the Brazilian Girls and DeVotchKa; a cabaret act billed as a “variety show on acid;” and the Spiegeltent itself, a 1920s-era big top complete with brass bar, stained glass windows, and velvet booths. It sounded like a scene from “Moulin Rouge” (the press releases made this allusion too), yet its debut was on Pier 17, the closest Manhattan comes to a suburban shopping mall. Could the Seaport really pull off something that edgy?
The answer was an emphatic yes, particularly when it came to Spiegelworld’s signature show, “Absinthe,” a collection of muscular stunts, bawdy songs, and erotic, acrobatic feats. The kerchief trick those who saw it surely haven’t forgotten it still makes me grin. And though the thrill of experiencing something completely new is gone, the producers have managed to pull together yet another surprising, seductive blend of cabaret and Cirque de Soleil, with a touch this year of laugh-out-loud humor.
The gags came courtesy of a lounge lizard called “The Gazillionaire,” (Voki Kalfayan) and his sidekick Penny (Anais Thomassian), who was the rim shot to his improvisational banter. As Kalfayan, a former Cirque de Soleil clown , embarrassed various audience members “Look, a trio of old lesbians!” he said to the straight women in the first row Thomassian seconded, “They’ll do anything.” When Kalfayan then praised a made-up man for embracing both his masculine and feminine side, Thomassian cooed in the microphone: Indecision 2007. The duo worked the room so well once as a cheesy, Cirque de Soleil act from Reno, another time in a William Tell incident gone hilariously awry they should consider creating their own show.
Aside from their skits, a gender bending singer, and burlesque legend Julie Atlas Muz, who can excite with just a bat of her thickly lashed eye, there were few consistent elements in this sexy yet scatterbrained variety show. But who cares! The hodgepodge of hard bodied contortionists and louche acrobats still made the audience ooh and ah. There was even the equivalent of the kerchief trick in terms of unforgettableness: a roller skating couple called The Willers who spun so fast on that saucer-sized stage, it seemed inevitable that the woman would fly into the audience.
“La Vie,” the new show at Spiegelworld by Montreal circus arts troupe The 7 Fingers, doesn’t elicit the same heart-racing fun. It does, however, offer a more coherent narrative, as the performers on stage take us on a trip to purgatory. “We know you had a choice of afterlifes,” a woman dressed as a stewardess informs us. “And we thank you for choosing purgatory, the flight to hell that never quite gets there.” Between the various deaths enacted on stage, the company segues into sexy acrobatic acts and circus stunts (one involving full frontal nudity) but ultimately, the tricks feel tired and the cast is just too plain Jane to be believable as erotic performers.
There is yet another variety show at Spiegelworld this summer that is certifiably racy: “Weimar New York.” The cabaret, originally performed at Joe’s Pub, takes as its inspiration Weimar-era Berlin, a city and time with an unfortunate affinity to the present day U.S., and injects the old format with fresh talents like Amy G, the show’s politically snarky, always on cue MC (and erotic kazoo-er), and the outrageously funny “boylesque” dancer Tigger. Unlike “Absinthe” or “La Vie,” the faces in the audience are all familiar, or at least locals, making this decadent big top feel more and more like a Downtown fixture.
For a full schedule of Spiegelworld shows, visit www.spiegelworld.com.