BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Location, location, location: Spiegelworld formerly held its rowdy cabaret-circus-burlesque summertime revues such as “Absinthe” in a fancy antique tent assembled upon a pier at the South Street Seaport.
Now the company has moved the 440-seat spiegeltent uptown to the Theater District, where its latest show, “Empire,” bowed on Thursday night.
Expect to see much of the same entertainment that Spiegelworld always has offered: Bawdy comedy bits, intimate gymnastic/acrobatic routines, flashes of nudity and similarly risque doings performed in the finger-tip round. The quality of this edition’s artists and acts remains on a par with earlier shows.
A crucial problem regarding the tent’s new location is that, for all of its louche charms, “Empire” pales against the current Broadway hits residing on that same 45th Street block such as “Once,” “One Man, Two Guvnors” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”
And people who complain about the tight seating in Broadway houses will not be pleased by the rickety wooden folding chairs available in the spiegeltent.
That said – and the tent’s not-so-cool cooling system duly noted – “Empire” provides a typically offbeat 90-minute diversion not meant for kids. Emceed by Jonathan Taylor and Anne Goldmann as a crass pair of broke billionaires, the highlights of a dozen or so flashy acts include:
Wriggling girl-on-girl-on-girl action provided by three comely gymnasts. A lovely artiste who contorts lazily within a suspended plastic bubble. Taylor and Goldmann engaging in a raunchy spitting match involving bananas. Hunky Sven Rauhe and panther-ish Roma Hervida dangerously whirling around on roller skates. Chanteuse Lena Hall loudly crooning pop tunes associated with New York.
The show’s one truly extraordinary act may not be sexy but it certainly is intense. Beginning with just a feather, a scarily concentrated artist named Rigolo creates a delicately balanced assembly of ever-larger pieces of driftwood that after awhile resembles a floating pterodactyl skeleton. It’s a breathtaking feat.
Director Wayne Harrison paces the acts smoothly while his designers dress the performers fancifully in very little. People who have enjoyed earlier Spiegelworld shows will not be disappointed by this uptown edition except that the naughty magic indoors is scarcely enhanced by the Broadway neighborhood.
Instead of being surrounded by a beer garden on the breezy East River, the spiegeltent here is squeezed tightly into a lot next to a parking garage. Situated so closely to Times Square, it is likely that “Empire” will attract a tourist crowd somewhat more than the tri-state clientele of previous years. That’s a bit ironic since the show’s visual theme hazily celebrates Manhattan and its denizens.
“Empire” continues through Sept. 2 at the Spiegeltent, 265 W. 45th St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com.