Very honorable mention should go to the burlesque artiste who does surprising things with a giant balloon to the tune of “Moon River.” As the great song goes in Gypsy, “You Gotta Get A Gimmick.” The wry and plumdumptious Julie Atlas Muz enters serenely through the audience wearing little more than a G-string, decorously holding onto an inflated balloon that’s as tall as she is.
Ms. Muz is a riot on first sight—but where, I wondered, could she possibly go with the balloon? “Étonnez moi!” was Diaghilev’s famous decree to his artists. Ms. Muz did just that.
As “Moon River” reached a romantic crescendo, she placed her head swiftly into the balloon, where it remained as our jaws dropped open and she swayed happily to the music. Then she climbed into the balloon—and waved to us all from inside!
Well, it was fantastic. And when “Moon River” ended, the balloon burst open—pop!—and the divine Ms. Muz emerged to relish our cheers.
AS FOR THE REST, I must warn you of the misguided attempt to replicate the decadence of pre-World War II Berlin cabaret. The three “hosts” of Absinthe are comedic oblivion: “Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
A loud diva transvestite opens the show. But, frankly, I’ve had my fill of mediocre Dietrich and Garland impersonators in drag. The faux incompetence of a girlish character named Penny amounts only to staggering humorlessness and a foul mouth. The charitable thing to do with the sleazy Master of Ceremonies—known as The Gazillionaire—would be to give him the hook immediately.
I’ve waited for years to see the living embodiment of John Osborne’s mythic, failed entertainer Archie Rice. The Gazillionaire is he. Archie possesses no talent. He dies every night with no hope waiting for him in the wings. At least you feel for him. The Gazillionaire is as crudely low as it gets. His idea of knockabout comedy is to dry hump the air and aggressively pull some poor audience member’s head into his crotch. He sucks someone’s toes and thinks it’s hilarious. If you don’t applaud him, he calls you an asshole.
What a guy. Even so, he gets laughs from some. (So does sweaty, defeated Archie Rice.) But whenever he appears onstage, he practically stops the show in its tracks.
Absinthe is a small, schizophrenic circus that’s divided between comic cluelessness and wonder. But at least there’s my favorite loon on his pogo stick, juggling his machete knives dementedly, and my “Moon River” princess in her balloon. If there’s room I’d like to live in the balloon with her, and shout out to the coarse world, “Too beautiful! Too beautiful!”