It's been nearly 30 years since the Cirque du Soleil phenomenon-artsy, fanciful productions featuring exquisitely costumed tumblers, jugglers and aerialists-swept the globe. Each Cirque du Soleil production was more lavish than the last, with incredible sets and more daring tricks, and, of course, it was performed in a big traveling tent, lending magic to a nation accustomed to packing sports arenas for entertainment.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Cirque du Soleil should be flattered. Pompano Beach is home to Neil Goldberg's Cirque company, which has brought the spectacle to performing arts centers around the world. And, in recent years, Miami has been the destination for traveling productions based on pirate and Halloween themes and "Absinthe," a period show performed in a wooden, 19th century spiegeltent.
The latest cirque iteration to set up in Miami is "Orchid," performed in a spiegeltent in the "Pleasure Garden," a park on the northwest corner of Biscayne Boulevard and 38th Street on edge of the Design District. Billed as the ultimate mix of sexuality and cirque, "Orchid," a new production directed by William Baker and promoted by the Arsht Center, purports to present a tale of the creation of beauty in a solitary, pristine garden.
Voiceovers introduce the Master Gardener (Richard E. Waits), who creates the ultimate flowering beauty, Orchid (Lexy Romano). But, as in the Biblical Garden of Eden, the Master Gardener's creations are tempted by the Bee Keeper (Patrick Ortiz) and his bees.
The show is part burlesque (get ready to see lots of boobies covered with clever pasties), part musical theater and part circus, and unfortunately, never really hones in enough in any area to be coherent: Let's face it, this garden needs a good pruning.
The book (Baker and Terry Ronald) is downright hoky, filled with every possible double entrendre about the flowers' "vessels" and evoking far too many comparisons to the Eden story. The story is certainly not propelled by the score either, which is part New Age soundtrack/part rock anthem, with the small cast tackling familiar pop songs, including "Like a Virgin" (during the pollination sequence, no less), "I Want Your Sex," "I Feel Love," "9 to 5," and "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face."
Most of the vocals are competently tackled by Waits, Romano and Ortiz, but attempts to harmonize with the dancers and performers rarely are convincing. The girls were obviously hired for talents other than their voices.
The costumes, designed by Stevie Stewart and Baker, are colorful, but a little confusing. The Master Gardener is portrayed as a sort of a confusing Mad Hatter character more suited for a Tim Burton film. The Bee Keeper looks like something from the pages of The Great Gatsby in pinstripes, wingtips and straw hat.
Two performances make "Orchid" worth the ticket price: Stunning aerial acts by the King Bee (Hampus Janssen, a Nordic Adonis whose every ripped muscle glistens under the lights) and comic relief from burlesque performer Kitty Bang Bang (as herself). The mixed gay/straight crowds both ogled Janssen's perfect body every time the statuesque blond took the stage and sighed with each show of upper body strength. As for Kitty - I'm still not clear how she fits into the whole "garden" thing - well, she stole the show with a high energy, sexy dance number performed with flaming torches and culminated with blazing pasties.
If you go, plan to linger in the Pleasure Garden, tastefully decorated by Luis Pons in giant flowers constructed of garden lattice that perfectly complement the European character of the spiegeltent and accompanying restaurant, featuring a $38 prix fixe menu by award-winning celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, munch on the duck fat popped popcorn during the show or down a kosher hot dog slathered in kim chee. Just like the show, there are plenty of competing flavors, both salty and sour.
"Orchid" runs through Jan. 6, 2013 at The Pleasure Garden (3800 Biscayne Blvd., Miami). Tickets $79-118 at www.OrchidTheShow.com