By Caroline Fontein
A highly potent spirit, Absinthe packs a punch for those who indulge in it. The show of the same name is just as intoxicating. Guests do more than spectate. They’re absorbed into a world of colorful performers whose reality feels surreal to the unknowing outsider. If you’ve never tasted Absinthe, you’ll have a pretty good idea of its effects after seeing this show.
“At ‘Absinthe’ you feel like you’re really, really drinking, really drunk, really involved in it. Your personal involvement in the story, the action, you’re right there, and you just get sucked into it, like a good night of drinking should be. It’s more of a party than a show,” rambled The Gazillionaire in his distinctively raspy voice.
He’s the show’s host and producer. Sporting an ill-fitting white tuxedo, dark slicked-down hair and gold shoes he looks like a used car salesman moonlighting as a lounge singer. The Gazillionaire is a parody of himself, but celebrating individuality and everything in excess is what this show is all about.
When “Absinthe” opened on the Las Vegas Strip in early 2011, no one knew what to expect. Billed as a blend of carnival and spectacle, the show prompted speculation. “Absinthe’s” venue added to the mystery. The show was to take place in a tent located in front of Caesars Palace. Inside, guests would be transported to an adult cabaret with in-the-round seating and 20th century European décor. The closest seat was a little more than arm’s length away from the performers. The show didn’t sound like anything else on the Strip, and that proved to be a good thing.
Originally scheduled for a limited run, “Absinthe” was such a hit with audiences that it’s still running successfully and show dates have been extended into the first several months of 2012.
The show has undergone a metamorphosis since it opened. While acts have changed, including the addition of reality TV star Angel Porrino, and an upgrade was made to a new tent, the concept for the show and the reason for its success has remained the same.
“It’s not Vegas at all, and I think that’s what people love about it,” said Porrino.
Wearing little more than pasties, she performs a tap dancing routine while inside of a large balloon. She’s one of several specialty acts in the show. Along with their skill sets, what makes seeing the acts a rare experience is their proximity to the crowd.
“There’s no other show that is so intimate, like you’re sitting in your living room being entertained, and the risk,” said The Gazillionaire. “We take a lot of risks in the show. We really push the edge. We take the risk of failure, and I don’t think there are a lot of people willing to do that.”
On top of that, there aren’t many production elements supplementing each act. Instead of multimillion dollar sets and extravagant costumes, the acts are spotlighted in their simplest
form, making the performers seem more like everyday people.
“When you have a mask on your face or your makeup is so big that you cannot even see the color of your skin, the people have to struggle to reach you and then you have to struggle to reach them with your message,” said Maxime Clabaut.
He performs a sensual fixed trapeze duet with Genevieve Landry. Being able to interact with the audience during the show engages the crowd in a different way than if Clabaut and Landry were performing in a large venue or as part of a production show.
“Cirque du Soleil does amazing things, but you get this feeling that it could be special effects or it could be secret wires holding [per formers] up. In our show you’re like, ‘there’s nowhere to hide anything like that.’ We’re surrounded by audience members,” said Tony Hernandez. “There are no magic tricks, what you see is what you get. If we fail, you’re going to see that too because it’s right there in front of you.”
His is the final act of the night. He does an astonishing high wire routine with two other guys. Part of their act includes a keg stand and balancing on a chair, all while standing on a tightrope above the audience.
“It ’s not like a normal circus where it’s you, and that’s it. Here, that fourth wall comes down, and you’re interacting with the audience while you’re up there on the high wire,” said Hernandez.
In addition to the specialty acts, “Absinthe” features a hearty helping of uninhibited, stereotype-driven and sex-fueled comedy created by The Gazillionaire and his bubbly assistant, Penny Pibbets. The majority of what they say is improvised nightly based on their interaction with the audience.
“It really is the essence of live theater. You’ll never see the same show twice,” said The Gazillionaire.
Other specialty acts in the show include: “The Green Fairy,” a buxom brunette who sings and does a burlesque-style striptease, a strong man routine with two male performers and a female aerialist described by The Gazillionaire as the “sexiest woman alive.”
“Absinthe’s” adult nature allows the performers to have more freedom when it comes to being provocative. They aren’t constrained by family-friendly concerns, adding to the show’s theme of celebrating all things in excess.
“It’s a fresh show that allows us to perform the act the way we want to perform it, like going so far in the sexuality of it, said Clabaut. “Usually when we perform in Canada or in Europe, they always ask us to turn it down a little bit, like be sensual, but don’t be too sexual. ‘Absinthe’ is the first show that’s allowed us to do the act the way we created it.”
By spotlighting indulgent and uninhibited behavior, “Absinthe” is Vegas. It doesn’t have the over-the top production elements that have become synonymous with the Entertainment Capital of the World, but it embraces the city’s matra. People come to Vegas to abandon reality and “Absinthe” makes that happen.
“This is more party than theater, so leave your pretentions at home and your judgment,” said The Gazillionaire. “Come to have a good time, and you’re going to have a good time.”