Zumanity at New York – New York

New York-New York Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas



When Cirque du Soleil’s enduring adult-oriented extravaganza Zumanity first opened at New York-New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas six quickly fleeting years ago this month, I mentioned in my original coverage of the event that the show made me realize I’m not quite the incorrigible pervert I’d wondered if I had become.

I saw my first tour of the Cirque’s Nouvelle Experience in 1990 and immediately thought maybe I was the only person around who found it impossibly sexy. Those aerialists in their skimpy spandex costumes, contorting into pretzels so high above my head that I was in danger of whiplash, seemed to me to be a real turn-on, yet people around me were eating cotton candy and bouncing their wide-eyed kiddies on their knees, just as in any traditional circus. Was it just jaded ol’ me who saw this as somewhat adult material?

As the years went by and the Cirque continued their scantily-clad antics with Saltimbanco, Alegria, Quidam and Dralion, I still felt a little guilty by what the nubile young dancers, athletes and various other performers in these touring productions “inspired” in me. Then the costuming became even more daring when Mystere opened as a permanent attraction at Treasure Island in Vegas in 1993—and it was obvious this town was the ultimate place for the Cirque. I was also sure that, even in Sin City, they would go no further.

Yeah, right. In 1998 came the premiere of “O” at a brand new hotel called the Bellagio. The costuming was even more revealing and they added water to keep the performers glistening wet as well. I was beginning to think I wasn’t the only one who thought the Cirque was better than any racy entertainment money could buy, even in Vegas.


Then along came Zumanity and I realized these guys have been playing with our heads all along, bless ‘em! Zumanity bears (if you’ll excuse the expression) all the familiar attributes of every classic Cirque du Soleil presentation before it. The music, the pageantry, the acrobatics are all there, but it was also their first direct celebration of human sexuality, a right-out-there examination of love and sensuality explored from many different perspectives. Included among the usual international beauties in this human zoo are 50 performers of all colors, ages, shapes, sizes, physical conditions—and varieties of partnering.

Now, six years later I returned for a new look at Zumanity last month and, let me assure you, it’s lost none of its original bite. From the traditional before-show antics, with performers walking through the house doing various unspeakable things to audience members, it’s clear Zumanity will take no prisoners, going even beyond a head-full of popcorn or a few well placed splashes from “O”’s 1.5-million gallon pool.

The pre-show performers of Zumanity include comedians Nicky Dewhurst and Shannan Calcutt, aiming to please (again, no pun intended) with their sexy and silly methods used to engage the audience in a hilarious round of not-so-innocent repartee, and the ultra-zaftig Medeiros sisters, who since the show’s opening night still literally slither over the seats at every performance, their enormously corpulent asses clothed only in teenyweeny little string thingees, saying a surprisingly large hello right into patrons’ shocked faces as they offer plates chockfull of gigantic fresh strawberries.


One of the sexiest acts in any Cirque du Soleil show involves Louise Yorath, an airborne acrobat suspended from a single long stretch of cloth wound around and about the body. This is a prime example of one of those moments I pondered if anyone else found erotic, but I wonder no longer. Zumanity features such an act, but the straps are more like bondage and, with each maneuver, the lovely (totally) redheaded seductress makes echo-y sexual shudders, expelling orgasmic cries with each bouncy landing.

And in one remarkable section reminiscent of the famous “Hand to Hand” act from Mystere, Troy Holt and Brandon Pereyda, one very white and one very black, perform a fiercely mesmerizing tango choreographed to show the conflicted nature of their mano-y-mano relationship. Alternating between violent revulsion and several passionate sexual tableaux, their breathtakingly beautiful dance is finalized by a torrid kiss that makes most of the guys in the audience gasp aloud or at least squirm a little—that is before bursting into telling applause. You know what they say about Vegas and everything staying in it, after all.

There is also nude fire dancing; aerial wonders performed by Brazilian Little Person Alan Jones Silva, who grabs the tail-end of his corseted lady love’s riggings and is catapulted aloft, tumbling through the air like a rag doll; two gorgeous ladies swimming seductively Esther Williams-style in a glass bathtub, occasionally surfacing long enough to perform major Sapphic contortions on the rim or to spit water onto each other’s slippery flesh; a lengthy striptease by a boneless muscleboy named Willie Bronco; and uninhibited African, salsa and flamenco dancing performed with more gusto than Britney Spears on steroids.

Zumanity for the first five years was hosted by my outrageous friend, the legendary New York transgendered diva Joey Arias, a Betty Paige-meets-Vampira black-leathered vision in Thierry Mugler finery referred to as Zumanity’s “Mistress of Seduction.” Joey has since returned to the Big Apple, where his Arias with a Twist was a huge and ever-extended off-Broadway hit earlier this year. Now the honors have been taken over by another Mugler-dressed vixen named simply Edie and, as worldly as I like to think I am, it wasn’t til the very end of the show, when the newest “Mistress” placed a finger across her lips to shush the audience when a fellow patron seemed to also be unaware of what gender Edie was, that I was sure myself.


The great thing about Zumanity is there’s something for everyone, though obviously the kiddies should be left with a bagful of quarters at the arcade or back at the hotel with a few Ambiens to entertain them. Still billed as “The Other Side of Cirque du Soleil,” Zumanity is quite different from the Cirque’s other four permanent Vegas attractions: Mystere, “O”, at the Bellagio, KA at the MGM Grand, and The Beatles’ LOVE at the Mirage, all of which together have redefined what this crazy town is about.

I’ve always loved the old excessively garish glitz of Vegas in small doses, but thanks in large part to the Cirque, the place has become more than neon flashing dice and Elvis chapels. There’s now equal representation from well-dressed shoppers and showgoers, as well as families with children in tow wearing matching foam Statue of Liberty crowns. Considering all these new visitors meandering wide-eyed from hotel to hotel far outnumber drunken fratboys and Living Dead beehived rejects from American Graffiti, if Vegas gets any more upscale and family-oriented, the hookers will start dressing like Dora the Explorer.

One typically talkative Vegas cabby, who bragged he was an heir to the Chandler fortune and Kirk Kerkorian’s son-in-law but drives cabs for something to do when not piloting his private jet (I love this town!), told me the taxi industry’s business to the New York-New York/Luxor/MGM Grand/Mandalay Bay side of town doubled with the 2003 opening of Zumanity. People today come to town exclusively to see shows—some, like me, never gambling at all besides dumping pocket change.


See, I learned my lesson early.

When I was married in Vegas 350 years ago (that’s another story), I remember a sight that made me wish I’d had a camera handy. On the street in front of the long-gone Frontier Hotel stood a tightly-lifted Beverly Hills matron with a huge fur coat draped over her arm in the dead of the desert-hot summer, one foot lifted onto a massive mound of Louis Vuitton luggage and one perfectly manicured thumb raised to passing cars while the other hand held up a cardboard sign reading: “L.A.” Need I say more?

Zumanity plays indefinitely at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino, 3790 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas; for tickets, call 866.606.7111.

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com