The cool thing about Cirque du Soleil shows is they are all completely different and totally the same. There are costumes and contortionists and clowns, music and musclemen, jokes and juggling. But what sells each show is not just the energy and the style and the wow-factor, but the talents of the individual artists. Think you know how to spin a Yo-Yo? Watch someone who gets paid to do and you’ll probably feel like you’re auditioning right after Meryl Streep.
The latest from CdS, Kurios — Cabinet of Curiosities (now through March 26 at Lone Star Park) is as dazzling as you’d expect; if the gauge the successful of a show is how many times you shout out “Holy shit!” then this one is NC-17.
The concept is glamorously retro — a steampunk street fair populated by men (and, I think, a few women) with pencil-thin moustaches and Brilliantine-slicked hair, aviator-goggled daredevils and women in long gloves and velvet gowns (including one who stands barely 2 feet tall). It’s like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil come to life onstage.
Holding it all together is a protean master of ceremonies, who conducts a flea circus or invisible acts, woos a woman in the audience with animal impersonations (among them a T-rex — and he weighs about 90 lbs.) and generally goofs like the reincarnation of Charlie Chaplin.
He’s a wonderful ringmaster, but hardly the only delight. There’s also the tandem Russian strap artists (two well-muscled acrobats whose act is beautiful and kinda sexy), a quartet of contortionists who, paradoxically, seem made of both rubber and steel; trampolinists who soar so high they could be regulated by the FAA. There’s a lot of creativity at work here; the chair-climbing act (a staple of Cirque) is modified so that the artist not only climbs up, but another climbs down; a hand-puppet act that makes clever use of the camera; and inventive sound effects. There were only a handful of acts that didn’t astonish me, and they were mostly early on. But it’s the entire experience — the big top, the popcorn, the red carpet — that set Cirque du Soleil apart from an ordinary performance. It really does feel like magic.