By Chris Willman
October 10, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT


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At the Las Vegas premiere of Zumanity — in which Cirque du Soleil trades its big-top image for toplessness — Hugh Hefner sat in the front row, surely gloating at having made this possible. The show at one point becomes a literal sexual revolution, as the cast make out on a spinning platform dubbed ”a lazy Susan of sex” by drag-queen host Joey Arias. Two of Hef’s gal pals were pulled on stage to participate in this orgiastic pantomime; asked how it was, one quipped, ”I feel at home.”

Therein lies a problem with Cirque’s shift from family-friendly acrobatics to sexual gymnastics: Titillating tourists with artsy licentiousness can’t help but feel as fresh as a Friars Club field trip to the grotto. Not that there’s a dull moment in this $16 million hodgepodge of cabaret, contortionism, and Chippendales — not between the gay wrasslin’, the dancing blow-up doll, a flying ballet with a dwarf and an Amazon, and orgasmic aerial self-bondage.

Zumanity has some of the most beautiful things you may ever see on a stage, and some of the most embarrassing. A number in which two sapphic gymnasts dive breathtakingly in and out of a giant water bowl outdoes Cirque’s own watery epic, O. But for every lovely moment there’s a garden-variety stripper or some wretched vaudeville, like the recurring Puritans who try to halt the immorality, then (naturally) hump everything in sight, including — hold your guffaws, please! — a prop cow.

Maybe taste is moo-t in the 702 area code, but Mystere fans will find little mystery and lots of insistent pleas to give yourself over to absolute pleasure. ”Sex is beautiful,” the resident R&B singer wails over the Sturm und Drag, and occasionally — not nearly often enough — Zumanity even seems to believe it. (888-693-6763) C


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