VEGAS RAUNCH AT ITS FINEST
by Heidi Longwood
Photography Tom Donoghue
First, a warning: if you are easily offended, can’t handle sex jokes, or are looking for a hold-your-hand heartwarming experience, Absinthe is not a show for you, and most likely not for your grandmother. The Gazillionaire and his sidekick Penny take you on a raunchy, dirty ride. So hold onto your seats and be prepared to drop every political correctness at the door. No one is safe, especially not the front row, from insults to perversion. No topic is off-limits from sex, to politics, race, and many common not-so-nice stereotypes.
I admit it freely; I am a jaded Vegas resident. I didn’t mean for it to happen. After all, before moving here, Vegas was my favorite getaway. I told friends and family alike that they had to come to “Sin City” to experience the one and only Disneyland for adults. Upon moving here however, my viewpoint changed somewhat, I was a local now, and the glitter and awes from the Strip lacked their normal effect on me. I became jaded, and let’s face it, overloaded, on anything that touted a “Cirque” production element to it. It was my own version of Vegas overload. It was sheer frustration that I felt at a re-viewing of the Blue Man Group, in which their digital displays asked people to please turn off their pagers. Pagers????? Do we not in this town have the integrity to at least update our shows based on current technologies? Who uses pagers at all anymore? Thankfully, to the Blue Man’s credit, there are a considerable amount of Captain Crunch lovers still out there. And I do know that they have a new show poised to premier. So when I was invited to experience Absinthe, I have to admit, it was with a biased eye that I entered that crazy tent. I expected more of the same old, same old in Vegas shows, and was taken aback by what I actually encountered.
Absinthe originated in New York City. Spiegelworld, the company behind this outrageous creation, caused a big buzz in the world of entertainment with its production that the New York Times hailed as “Cirque Du Soleil as channeled through the Rocky Horror Picture Show.” With new productions spanning the globe, Speigel’s twisted circus seems to have found a welcome new home here in Las Vegas. When the production had its maiden launch in Vegas, the show was first housed in a vintage 100-year-old circus tent, right in the front of Caesars. Now, due to building codes/fire safety standards, a new tent had to be constructed and a white unassuming tent takes the place of its once very colorful predecessor. The show is creating a big buzz, and aside from the few prudish tourists that have been scared off by its very raunchy comedy, it’s a big hit on the Vegas entertainment scene. And for those like myself, who are experiencing Cirque overload, it’s a welcome change that even pokes fun at the Cirque productions that we all have gotten so used to at this point.
Before you head into the tent, I recommend you get there just a bit early. The Beer Garden opens up in advance, giving you ample time to enjoy a cocktail or two before enjoying the show. And if you are going to see Absinthe, isn’t it only fitting that you have an absinthe cocktail before you view the experience? I say, “Yes.” The Beer Garden, which looks a bit like an upscale junkyard with wild and bizarre furniture, will make more sense to you once you see the interior of the tent. And yes, at the bar, there is an absinthe fountain, begging you to try the drink of legend. The fountain, contrary to what you might think, doesn’t dispense absinthe, but instead dispenses ice-cold water, to cut the high-proof drink. Underneath the fountain sit absinthe-filled glasses that are prepped with a special flat utensil that sits atop them with a cube of sugar on top. The water is slowly dispensed into the glass until the ideal green color of the drink is achieved. There are other absinthe cocktails to sample, including a “Green Fairy”, but even if you aren’t feeling up to trying the libation that Van Gogh loved so much, I urge you to take a moment to get a drink here and take in the lights and sights of our city, that we, as locals, tend to forget about. The atmosphere sparked a love for our city that I had forgotten about.
Now, I have to tell you about this tent. The “Spiegeltent” (translation in Dutch means “mirror tent”), makes sense when you take in the 2,000 that are placed around the tent for decoration. There is a bit of whimsy and spectacle as you enter that tent for the first time. It is a truly unique Strip experience walking into the Spiegelworld tent. It’s an eclectic “on an absinthe-binder-high” kind of decorating scheme, with much to take in. It’s full of objects to study and distract you from the rather rickety-feeling setup for the show; stark simple wooden chairs and a small, I mean really small stage, only steps away from where the audience is about to sit. The realization upon finally taking your seat, of how close all of the action will actually be, in relation to your seating, is a bit nerve-racking, to say the least. You look up and think: “Are those tightropes right above my head?” That being said, there isn’t a bad seat in the house, and to our host’s credit, we were even afforded the upgrade to closer seats (though thankfully, not front row) based on the attendance for the evening.
There’s no “PC” here – no topic too scandalous to discuss. I’m sure there are quite a few unsuspecting tourists that get up and leave when they hear the Gazillionaire begin his schtick. He is offensive and rude, weird yet scary, all at the same time. There is a bit of relief when he picks on anyone other than you. Front row be warned: you will get ripped on. It’s hilarious, so if you’ve got the stomach to take the hits, the VIP tickets are a worthwhile purchase. His partner in hosting, Penny, is not as in-your-face with the insults, but she was just as funny. Her naughty sock puppet show is a highlight of the night. We laughed through most of their time on the stage.
The green fairy (a.k.a. Melody Sweets) is a beautiful vision that serenades you throughout the night from some wild vantage points. Then, there are the performers – and they are right there, only a few feet away from the audience, which is seated in a circle around them. To say the standard “death-defying”, doesn’t do this show justice. If something, anything, were to go wrong, people are going to get hurt. First, there is the acrobat who stacks the chairs higher and higher, only to balance on the top. And his “almost dropping the chair” – is that planned? Whether it is or not, it was enough to make my stomach drop. The acts continue with a brother duo that defy gravity, a cute burlesque number with Angel Porrino and a giant balloon, a roller skating couple whose acrobatics and spins come uncomfortably close to the audience, and a tight rope walking act that thrills you at one turn, then has you laughing uncontrollably at the next. And finally, this is some of the craziest audience participation that I have ever witnessed. I’m told the antics change nightly, but on our visit, the Gazillionaire coerces two unsuspecting males to touch tongues on stage. It’s a nonstop ride that Absinthe gives you. Whether a local or a guest in our fine city, I suggest you put it on your list of must-sees. You will not be disappointed.