Arts

Review: Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Mad Apple’ Embodies Las Vegas’ Festive Spirit

Two daring acrobats perform an incredible acrobalance act as the one who is laying down uses his feet to flip his partner in the air. Photo credit: Matt Beard

The following review is based on the 7:00 pm Friday, April 7th performance of Cirque du Soleil’s Mad Apple at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV.

It hasn’t even been quite a whole year since Cirque du Soleil’s Mad Apple premiered in Las Vegas’ New York-New York Hotel & Casino. The newest Cirque addition to Sin City, amongst a current six overall options to choose from by the Montreal-based troupe, is just what the strip needed as it truly lives up to its tagline of “Cirque. Comedy. Music. Mayhem.” There is something for everyone with the 80-minute Mad Apple, so much so that it wouldn’t be a surprise if it eventually rivals O as Cirque’s top seller in the region.

Mad Apple has essentially replaced Cirque’s previous resident show which enjoyed a nearly 17-year run, the sensual Zumanity, and while it retains some of its predecessor’s saucier aspects (after all, the age minimum to attend is 16), it also delights with laughs aplenty and with a more contemporary ambiance, dance choreography, and musical stylings to go along with, of course, astonishing acrobatics that will have the audience collectively holding its breath. In other words, Mad Apple captures what Vegas is about — sexy, sprightly, risk-taking, and euphoric.

Standup comedian Harrison Greenbaum in Cirque du Soleil’s Mad Apple at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV. Photo credit: Matt Beard

Moreover, what makes Mad Apple at the New York-New York Theater particularly special is that it reimagines traditional Cirque conventions. The immersive set — inclusive of both upstage and downstage bars (from which drinks and popcorn can be ordered from before showtime), a suspended disco ball in the shape of an apple, and sprawling Statue of Liberty crown affixed above a large rectangular screen — conveys an overarching message: This is the site of a party where an array of memorable moments will transpire.

Pre-show ditties like Rihanna’s “Work” and Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body” set the tone for when Mad Apple‘s sartorially inclined and irreverent host, Nicky the General Manager, introduces the festivities that are to follow with an abrupt but paradoxically welcoming “F— You!” And when Nicky — who later earns an uproarious reaction with his ribald hand puppetry inspired by animals of The Lion King — isn’t firing up the crowd, then the deejay and talented singer, Xharlie Black, ensures that energy levels remain optimal.

Cast members pose in basketball jerseys and athletic wear during the “game” in Cirque du Soleil’s Mad Apple at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV. Photo credit: Matt Beard

As things get rolling, the dancers and musicians — comprised of a drummer, guitarist, saxophonist, keyboardist, trumpeter, and keytar player — soon make themselves known, encouraging guests, many with drink in hand, to make ample noise and clap along. Perhaps encapsulating the show in one image is the sight of an upside-down male gymnast who does a headstand on the bar, only using his mouth to pick up a beverage-filled glass and chug it down.

The first major act involves a male juggler who not only negotiates several pins at once — through his legs, while spinning, and walking forward — but accomplishes a similar feat with hats (each of which is expeditiously placed on his head) and basketballs which are stacked and spun in awestriking unison. Leaving the next indelible impression is a suspended pole artist who twists and swivels her body overhead as the colorfully dressed cast, many of whom are maneuvering street signs around their bodies, sing the praises of New York City. As the number comes to a close, the pole aerialist cascades down at 100 miles per hour, only to stop herself inches from the floor, to the amazement of the crowd.

A female acrobat, who has been flung in the air, is about to be caught by her male partner in Cirque du Soleil’s Mad Apple at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV. Photo credit: Matt Beard

Exceeding the prior stunt is a partnered foot-juggling (Risley) routine that sees one Ethiopian performer assume the role of a base by simply using his feet to peddle, not unlike a bicycle, another Cirque virtuoso from the same country who does backflips, in perfect timing, off the shoes of his spotter. At one point, the tumbler is successively flipped at an incredible velocity only to catch himself in the nick of time on either his back, in a seated position, or by balancing his feet on the heels of his partner’s dexterous feet. This seemingly impossible undertaking asks the brain to question what the eyes are witnessing because it is not only carried out, but done with mind-blowing accuracy.

Following this, sirens portend a voguish scene as a female acrobat, with only her ponytail harnessed to the apple-shaped disco ball (ouch!), is effortlessly risen from the stage to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Using her otherworldly core strength, the trouper aerially “sits” cross-legged like a yogi before twirling at light speed, doing sky-high grand jetés, and moving in such a way that is reminiscent of a figure skater, except there is no ice under her feet. The grace and glam in this routine, despite its painful implications, elicit a profound appreciation from the observer.

Cast members in jerseys jump off trampolines and slam basketballs through a hoop in Cirque du Soleil’s Mad Apple at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV. Photo credit: Matt Beard

Similarly, a male and female duet straps routine strikes its fair share of beautiful chords as does a hand-balancing demonstration by a male gymnast who is able to seamlessly contort and stretch out his arms and legs in difficult-to-comprehend positions. Additionally, a revamped trapeze act shines with its own poetic fluidity, though with a thrill factor that is exponentially amped up as a musclebound male swings his female partner into the air, catching her by her wrists at the last possible moment. This becomes even more perilous, and by extension doubly demanding of the onlookers’ attention, when the male is blindfolded and is tasked with keeping his colleague safe against all odds.

Since every party is better with games, the show takes a more “fun” turn with one, specifically a dunk contest that involves jersey-wearing high-jumpers catapulting off a trampoline, somersaulting in the air, and passing the ball off to “players” following closely behind who slam the ball through the hoop to NBA Jam-like fanfare. Hoops comes into play again, but this time in a different context as metal hoops (without nets) are stacked vertically and a set of gymnasts run and, with indisputable precision, hurl themselves through the tight spaces at varying heights.

Two performers negotiate the highly dangerous “Wheel of Death” in Cirque du Soleil’s Mad Apple at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV. Photo credit: Matt Beard

The final act is worthy of its placement as the duo of Mauricio and Jesse death-defyingly navigate the formidable “Wheel of Death,” which is an industrially sized and rotating steel beam with large rings on opposite ends. The stylish acrobats counterbalance each other as they walk in kinetic motion inside their respective rings spinning unrelentingly like the spokes on a wheel. Soon, the stakes are upped as Mauricio and Jesse leave their rings mid-motion, standing atop them, doing jumping-rope exercises and forward flips every time the wheel reaches its apex, hurtling from the ceiling where they land on the apparatus without a single slip or folly. This has to be seen to be believed and is worth the price of admission alone.

However, with nary a flip, let alone a jump, the individual who almost steals the show out from under the athletes’ feet is Mad Apple‘s featured comedian, Harrison Greenbaum. The Harvard graduate impresses not with his physical finesse or musicianship, but with his charm and wit which are oftentimes put to the test with ad-libbed improvisations. For example, Greenbaum is very skilled in not just teasing audience members, using the power of observation, but in bringing everything full circle with callbacks that are just as funny as his original quips. The New York city-based Jewish humorist and magician further impresses with how he weaves religion and politics into his act, appealing equally to a diverse throng of 1,200-plus inside the theater.

Xharlie Black (center) and the cast of Cirque du Soleil’s Mad Apple in the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV. Photo credit: Matt Beard

As a 1970’s medley beckons the “Studio 54” denouement of Mad Apple while the disco apple glimmers, the singers satisfyingly punctuate a pastiche of songs, dancers synchronously snap and sashay their bodies, the musicians rollickingly riff and solo, and the consummate Cirque professionals bow next to Greenbaum and the other cast members, it becomes clear that this spectacle is a remarkable achievement.

“Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” is certainly the appropriate mantra to end Mad Apple on because this is an extravaganza that any Las Vegas visitor or resident will find endlessly entertaining. And, best of all, the show finds its groove by completely throwing out the rule book on what a Cirque du Soleil production is supposed to look like, during the course of which the attendees are kept on their toes as they become compelled to dance the evening away alongside the company.

For more information about Cirque du Soleil’s Mad Apple at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV, please visit cirquedusoleil.com. Mad Apple is performed twice (7 and 9:30 pm) nightly on Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Wednesday and Thursday are dark.

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