Edie Takes on Cirque do Soleil
Edie, Zumanity's fresh "Mistress of Sensuality," was born on Halloween 2000 in New York's West Village. "I was going to go out as a Superhero," says Edie's alter ego, Christopher Kenney, "but my friend insisted that we go in drag." Once Kenney was in heels and a wig, Edie simply emerged. Kenney believes that every man has an inner drag queen, "I think every single man, but especially every gay man, has an idea in his head, if I do drag, I will look like this." Edie came out of Kenney's own sense of style. "I love timeless elegance," he said, "Simple elegance." As Zumanity's emcee, Edie is all long-legged elegance in sexy black silk stockings and little else. Kenney said, "I haven't ever worn anything that naughty. I had to go to Montreal three times for fittings. I said, 'Please don't let my butt hang out!'" Kenney said that the Cirque de Soleil designers built the costumes around the character of Edie to make her the "Mistress of Sensuality." He said, "That is their magic."
Edie's elegant legs come from years of training in classical ballet, which Kenney began when he was eight years old. He has danced professionally with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet and Ballet Chicago. Kenney danced in drag with Ballet Grand Diva in a 12-city tour of Japan. He said that his technique is totally different when he dances in drag than when dancing male roles. Although Edie does not dance in Zumanity, her fluidity of movement and statuesque bearing make good use of Kenney's dance training. Kenney's other professional credits as Edie include her 2006 Broadway debut in the Tony-nominated revival of The Threepenny Opera alongside Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper.
How did Cirque du Soleil choose Edie for her current role? "They called me! I don't know how they knew about me or who threw my name in the hat, but I am thrilled," Kenney said. "When I got the call, I thought it was a friend's prank and I said, 'Shut up! Who is this?' These are the calls people dream of!"
Edie centers Zumanity's ever changing, sometimes shocking sexual acrobatics. Kenney said, "The whole show is scooped up in Edie's arms." Similar to the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder's Our Town, Edie is an Everyman/woman who guides the audience in an exploration of their own sexuality. Kenney says that Edie "invites the audience as guests" to meet her friends-the Zumanity family. Edie makes the experience "safe" for the audience without making it tame. "Sex and sexuality don't have to be harsh," Kenney said. He said at first he didn't think he could do drag because, "I can't be snappy or bitching. That's not me." But he learned that that's not what drag is. He says, "I never want to belittle the audience. I just want people to have a good time."
Sometimes they have a little too good of a time. "The audience loves to participate," Kenney said. "From our perspective up on the stage, we see a lot of groping," he said. One couple got so caught up in the show that they were actually having sex and had to be escorted out by security. Kenney laughs, "The performers love to show off. Our job is to make the audience get carried away, but the ushers' job is to keep things in check."
Kenney says, "A lot of the dialogue written for Joey Arias"-Kenney's predecessor as Zumanity's emcee-"didn't work for me, as Edie. So Cirque du Soleil asked, 'What would Edie say?'" The result is a naturalness that almost seems improvisational, but Kenney said, while he is allowed some creative improvisation, "certain parts of the show have to be exact because of the timing involved."
Kenney says of his Las Vegas experience, "I always thought New York City was the crossroads of the world. That's so not true; it is Las Vegas. I have seen more friends visit in one year in Las Vegas than I saw in fifteen in New York." Kenney lives with his partner of ten years, the writer Jamie Morris. "We met on-line," Kenney says, "and the funny part is, I can't stand chatting on-line. But he was making me laugh so hard because he's such a good writer." Kenney says, "We fell deeply in love very quickly." Currently, Morris and Kenney are writing a play together for Las Vegas, but he is mum on the details-"You'll have to be surprised. It really is going to be magic." They plan to begin auditioning for the play in May.
Kenney has directed productions of Morris' two other plays, Mommie Queerest and The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode. Facts recently ran for six weeks in Los Angeles and is scheduled to open soon here in Las Vegas at the Onyx Theater with Kenney's partner playing Mrs. Garrett. Kenney himself will appear as Blair on Thursday nights of the run-when Zumanity is dark. Recently, Edie headlined the Red Dress Party at the Beauty Bar, showing off her dancing talents, along with Kevin Gibbs and Joe Rivera of the Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater.
Kenney says that initially he was a little put off by the Las Vegas gay scene. He said, "Las Vegas has a big gay community but locals never go out." He said he expected to find a gay coffee shop or bookstore. He finally discovered the locals scene at Fun Hog Ranch-"everyone is so friendly and nice there"-and at Charlie's, whose bartenders, he says, are "very nice."
Kenney and Morris live with Toby, their gay chihuahua from New York; their cat, Booger; and Pearl, a black chihuahua they adopted from the Nevada SPCA. Kenney said, "She's a total dyke. She is afraid of nothing."
Zumanity continues in an open-ended run at New York-New York Hotel and Casino, 3790 Las Vegas Blvd S., Las Vegas, Nevada. For more information visit the Zumanity website.