On a once-deserted lot at the corner of Biscayne Boulevard and NE 38th Street in Miami, a “garden” devoted to the pleasures of the senses has bloomed.
The Pleasure Garden isn’t really a garden at all. It’s a pop-up venue with an open-to-the-sky courtyard, large white latticework “flowers” by designer Luis Pons, and a beautiful pair of antique Belgian Spiegeltents, one devoted to a prix-fixe menu by celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein, the other the home of a brand-new show called Orchid.
Orchid is the culmination of a dream for producers David Schwarz and Martin LaSalle, an idea fertilized by creativity, talent and, obviously, lots of money. The show is 21st century burlesque with a theatrical through line, a living music “video” performed by actor-athletes with beautiful bodies and strong voices. Director William Baker has worked with Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears and other music stars, and he clearly knows how to create provocative stage imagery.
The Orchid script, a collaborative effort by Baker and vocal arranger Terry Ronald, cribs from the biblical Garden of Eden story. A godlike Master Gardener (Richard E. Waits) creates an array of gorgeous flowers – Venus Mantrap (Melany Centeno), Poison Ivy (Milena Hale), Tiger Lily (Kasey Walker), Honeysuckle Rose (Eva Kosmos) – blooming beauties later joined by Iris (Irina Naumenko) and the master’s greatest creation, the stunning Orchid (Lexy Romano). Paradise doesn’t last long, though, as the evil Bee Keeper (Patrick Ortiz) sets about having his bees (Marshall Jarreau, Nick Beyeler, Fernando Miro and King Bee Hampus Jansson) “pollinate” the flowers in a carefully choreographed faux orgy. Orchid is eventually cast out, left to fend for herself in a world both androgynous and sex-crazed. Redemption and a reclamation of purity lie at the end of Orchid’s rough journey, if you can count as “pure” dancers in ultra-skimpy white costumes with tasseled pasties.
In truth, the Orchid story, intoned by shirtless narrator Matthew Oaks, is the weakest part of the show. Though it links the musical, dance and circus numbers, it comes off as labored. Everything else about Orchid – the design, costumes, aerial work, recorded and live music, sound, lighting, choreography and performances – is much, much better and hotter.
“Eclectic” doesn’t begin to describe the show’s song choices. Orchid offers up Madonna (Like a Virgin, Justify My Love), Rihanna (Umbrella), DeBarge (Rhythm of the Night), Space (Female of the Species), Dolly Parton (9 to 5), Cole Porter (Down in the Depths), Jerry Ross and Richard Adler (Whatever Lola Wants), Fats Waller (Honeysuckle Rose) and more. Waits, Romano, Kosmos and Ortiz are the key singers, and all have strong rock or pop voices that turn their solos into highlights.
The burlesque/circus elements are just as impressive. A firecracker of a fire eater, a performer who calls herself Kitty Bang Bang, actually sets the tassels on her pasties on fire – now that’s hot. Contortionist Naumenko is elegantly sexy as she twists her slender body into impossible positions. Jansson and his fellow aerialists use silks to fly, ascend, descend and hover. Real bees should only wish they were as sculpted as these guys.
No one under 16 is admitted to Orchid, and there’s a reason for that. While the performers technically remained clothed (if pasties and g-strings count as clothing), the show is proudly and persistently erotic. Not that anyone in the attentive, appreciative crowd is complaining about the hothouse horticulture of this Miami-grown Orchid.
A scene from 'Orchid'. Photo: Tomas Loewy