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It’s a spin through the circus as Jerry Lewis hits ‘Absinthe’

Jerry Lewis-‘Absinthe’

John Katsilometes

Jerry Lewis with his daughter Danielle, The Gazillionaire, Melody Sweets and Joy Jenkins after a performance of “Absinthe” on Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, at Caesars Palace.

Updated Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015 | 4:58 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

Entertainment legend Jerry Lewis with Melody Sweets, who portrays the Green Fairy in “Absinthe,” after a performance Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, at Caesars Palace.

A few minutes before our group is to watch “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace, I remind that the show is built for grown-ups.

“This show is adult,” I say. “I mean, really adult.”

And the patriarch of the group says, “It’s burlesque. What are we supposed to expect? The Mormon Tabernacle Choir?”

So we can be confident that there’s nothing in “Absinthe” that will make Jerry Lewis blush.

This Friday night visit has been long in the making, and Lewis brings along his wife, Sam, and daughter Danielle, who works for David Saxe Productions. Lewis recently watched the DSP production “Vegas! The Show” and came away impressed with the talent in that show. Lewis has been out and about more frequently over the past few months. Prior to that night at “Vegas!,” he was in the audience for Matt Goss’ show at The Gossy Room at Caesars Palace and had a fine time there, too.

As for “Absinthe,” Lewis has been especially eager to visit this contemporary circus production at Caesars, where decades ago he headlined at Circus Maximus. As we’d discussed frequently, the show’s acts, singing and comedy rekindle the days when Lewis’s father, Danny, sang and danced in touring vaudeville shows. That’s the form of entertainment whence Lewis got his start, as a 5-year-old comic performer who got his first laugh by accidentally busting out a stage light with his foot.

When I mention to Lewis that the woman who trained the show’s high-wire act, The Frat Pack, is an actual member of The Flying Wallendas — Lijana Wallenda, a seventh-generation artist — his eyes flash and he says, “You’re kidding! My father worked with The Wallendas. I remember them from when I was a kid!”

That’s how deep are the roots of “Absinthe.”

The commentary over the next 100 minutes would make for a great theater piece. At the top, Lewis is asked what he wants to drink and says, “Coors Light.” No Diet Sunkist, his usual beverage? “Nah, I’m out on the town tonight.”

The show starts in its usual fashion, with Ruslan Khusinov stacking his chairs toward the narrow opening at the top of the tent. As he performs a one-arm handstand, Lewis says, “You know, I can still do that.”

It isn’t known until after the show that Lewis is once more fighting acute back pain, but he makes it to the performance anyway. The performers often work through pain, and he will, too.

Lewis routinely asks of the show’s structure, of the tent’s seating capacity (about 600) and its stage dimensions — just 9 feet in diameter. “Nine feet? That’s it?” he says. Of the tent, he says, “It’s a really good atmosphere,” noting that it reminds him of some venues from his early days as a performer. “There is a lot of energy in here. You can see the reactions of everyone in the audience.”

He is curious of the ticket prices, and when I tell him it’s $125 a pop, he says, “That’s good! And they do well here?” They usually sell out or come close to it. “That’s terrific.”

He asks when Melody Sweets is to make her appearance, as Sweets has become a friend of the Lewis family. When I point to her feet at the top of the chairs, he notices the sparkly footwear. “Those are some shoes!” As The Green Fairy strips to pasties for “Slice of Heaven,” he says, “They show a lotta skin, huh?” I tell him, “That’s why it’s $125 a ticket.” Hah! I explain that Sweets is usually in the show for an act in the middle of the performance, and he says, “I’d like to see that.

Lewis does appreciate the show’s comedy, especially The Gazillionaire, inquiring about the character’s role in the show and laughing or smiling through the opening routines. He cracks up as Gaz picks clean the audience, mocking every cultural affiliation he can spot — “And over here! Republicans! Nothing says ‘I hate gays’ like a Western leather jacket and cowboys boots!”

Lewis grins and says, “He’s letting everybody have it!”

Joy Jenkins gets a big laugh when she talks of servicing “the old men on Fremont,” and Lewis loudly repeats that line. Then Jenkins points to Danielle, seated at the edge of Jenkins’ platform, and says, “You know what I’m talking about!”

Many times, the high-flying acrobatic acts cause Lewis to grab at my shoulder or leg, a visceral response to the inherent risk presented in “Absinthe.” This happens during the trapeze act Duo Fevrier, especially, as Cadence Alexia and Linde Hartman flip and fly high above the stage. And, during the harrowing new skating act of Emily and Billy England, the brother-sister tandem who portray a priest and nun (and not a commonplace priest and nun). “I can’t believe the precision,” he says.

The fire-cracking sound of tappers Sean & John Scott makes him grin again, and he loves the guys he calls “the hoofers” as they hotfoot it across the stage and atop tables. At the end, I lean over to say, “What we’re seeing here is a lost art, isn’t it?” A great tapper in his day, Lewis nods and says, “Absolutely. In my day, everybody could tap dance.”

Lewis notes the pit crew-like efficiency of the members of the cast who move the sets on and off the stage. "These acts move into one another really well," he says. He forecasts Charlie Starling's bubble dance, as the dancer from Britain pulls the inflated balloon over her head. "She's going to get all the way inside that, isn't she?" he says.

The act that prompts the biggest laugh at the table, and the most revealing moment of the night, is during the Duo Vector balancing act of Lucasz Szczerba and Misha “10-Pack” Furmanczyk. The two Polish acrobats twist and balance in an amazing show of strength and discipline.

At one point, Furmanczyk rotates upside-down, his arms spread wide, suspended only by the shoulders of Szczerba.

“We used to do that act, but we had to quit,” Lewis says. “Dean hated being on the bottom."

The line links the city’s legendary entertainment past to its present and is delivered with expert timing. Even at age 89, the kid’s still got it.

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