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'Empire' is 'exciting stupid' fun

An undated photo of Trio Bellisimo and performers

An undated photo of Trio Bellisimo and performers who will be part of the show "Empire" by Spiegelworld, a Belgian-style burlesque circus show in a tent at 45th St. between Broadway and eight through the summer. (2012) Credit: Handout/

Through the dark and glitzy decades, many things -- good, bad, unprintable -- have happened for the first time in the Times Square area. But it is probably safe to say that no two people have ever spat projectile bites of bananas into one another's mouth for so long and at such vast distances as the emcee and his moll manage with such virtuosity in a tent on 45th Street and Eighth Avenue.

Lame low-comedy raunch and excellent teeny-top circus have settled in for the summer in a theatrically shaggy but physically risky 90-minute entertainment named, for no overwhelmingly obvious reason, "Empire." Performed in the round by a traveling vaudeville/cabaret/circus venture in a 440-seat quasi-art-nouveau tent called Spiegelworld, the thing was known as Spiegeltent during several summers down at the South Street Seaport.

I never saw those shows. But I can see where this one is aiming when Ross Mollison, the Australian producer, recently described it as "incredibly beautiful exciting stupid fun."

If not for the full-frontal glimpse of the male clown (Jonathan Taylor) and the joke with the tampon by his "wife" (the extremely flexible Anne Goldmann), "Empire" might be offbeat family amusement for tolerant families.

An amazing boy (Yonas Alemu) gets flipped over and over and over on the bare feet of his teammate (Tariku Degefa) to the strains of Beethoven's Ninth. Three women in garters and fishnets take off their gorilla heads to do what appears to be Olympic-level gymnastics, except that the bar has been replaced by teammates' feet.

A burly man break-dances in a huge rolling hamster wheel. A tough, libidinous roller skater sees how fast he can make his female equivalent fly around the tiny circle stage while holding onto less and less of her. A very serious man balances a feather on the top of heavier and heavier logs until his contraption looks like a mobile of a flying dinosaur bird.

"Empire" supposedly has a New York theme, with monopoly props and Occupy Wall Street signs. But the thing morphs into a couple of "Gilligan's Island" routines without explanation. Ask not why.

As promised -- warned? -- the jokes are indeed stupid. But the contortionists contort beautifully and the bar is always open. Stagehands often crouch around the little stage, a guarantee, I'm hoping, against limbs flying off and hitting me in the head.

WHAT "Empire"

WHERE Spiegelworld, 265 W. 45th St.

INFO $59-$89; 212-239-6200;

BOTTOM LINE Low-comedy raunch, excellent circus contortionists

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