Review: Empire (Spiegelworld)

EMPIRE-Lime Green Lady and Carrot Man

Spiegelworld presents circus, burlesque, cabaret show Empire under the spiegeltent in Toronto

As part of its Canadian tour Spiegelworld presents Empire, a contemporary take on a circus/burlesque/cabaret show performed under a gorgeously-decorated, 700-seat European mirror tent, or “spiegeltent,” set up near Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre.

The show is bawdy, sometimes lewd and unabashedly fun. Its conceit is not as precious as theatrical circus giant Cirque du Soleil’s shows. Plus the venue, with its tiny three meter-diameter stage, is far more intimate than the big tops (or more recently, cavernous hockey arenas) where Cirque performs, but Empire is also nowhere near as polished or satisfying for those of us who like a little more theatre in their theatrical circus shows.

EMPIRE-The Spiegeltent by Pat Beaudry

Spiegelworld’s adult-oriented cabaret-style shows were a regular staple in New York City for a few years. Empire first debuted in 2012 when the company moved their spiegeltent to a vacant lot near Times Square. This bit of the show’s history is pertinent because it explains the many New York references peppered throughout the show that wouldn’t otherwise make much sense now that it’s touring to other cities.

From the aerialist in the stars ’n’ stripes leotard, to the emcee in Statue of Liberty drag to the singer (Brampton native Tessa Alves) performing covers of both New York, New York and Empire State of Mind among other New York-inspired songs, the show is very much an homage to the Big Apple.

That theme really serves as the show’s only through-line; there’s no dramaturgical thread and no attempt at storytelling, but there are a few characters; the burlesque emcees Oscar and Fanny (Don Colliver and Jamie Franta) and the flirtatious, imp-like “Half Naked Asian Dude Wearing Pigtails” (Yasu Yoshikawa).

I would have liked it if the other circus performers were also given the chance to do more character work; instead they just parade around the stage looking devastatingly sexy, showing off their svelte and toned bodies. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though; this is a distractingly attractive cast and there should be some eye candy for everyone in the audience to enjoy.

Let’s get back to the emcees for minute. I did admire Franta’s brazen fearlessness when she interacted with audience members and, in his best moments, I thought Colliver channelled a young Jim Carey. However, I thought the duo’s material was pretty unoriginal: dick jokes and awkward, simulated sex acts. The material is crude and witless, but the duo’s stage time is limited enough that it doesn’t sink the entire show.

I also think that the pre-show where performers mingle with the audience drags on a few beats too long, but when the show proper finally gets underway, the eight-or-so circus acts featured are dazzling.

EMPIRE-Miss A in a Bubble-Lucia Cabrines 1 by Danielle Covin

Highlights for me included Lucia Carbines’ aerial contortion act in a plexiglass sphere; the Gorilla Girls (Ekaterina Rudenko, Alina Reutska, and Leslie Munos) performing Banquine (think elaborate cheerleading pyramids) to Beyonce’s Love on Top; Denis Petaov and Mariia Beseimbetova’s impressive roller skating act featuring increasingly elaborate lifts and spins on that tiny stage; and Henok Belachew and Temegen Adole Zada’s foot juggling act where one performer actually juggles the other with his feet.

It was the finale that truly left me breathless though. Andreis Jacobs Rigolo creates an elaborate structure by balancing branches on top of each other. The structure is just so precarious it feels as if it only stays erect by the sheer will of the audience; keeping us all on edge. I loved the contrast in the presentation of the act; while the other parts of the show are rowdy spectacles, during Rigolo’s act the audience holds its collective breath. At times it was so quiet I could hear the traffic whizzing by on the Gardiner nearby.

In the end, Empire is a sometimes crass but unabashedly fun and entertaining night out. Get there early and grab a drink at the outdoor bar and be prepared to let loose and have a good time. And yes, it’s okay to ogle all the sexy performers (we’re all doing it).


  • Empire is playing under the Spiegeltent erected at 318 Queens Quay West, near Rees Street through September 27, 2015
  • Shows run Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday at 8pm, Thursday-Saturday at 10pm, and Sunday at 7pm
  • Tickets $45.00 to $129.00
  • Tickets are available by phone at 1-855-310-2525, at the on-site box office (open two hours prior to the first show of the day) or online at

Photo of Vlad Ivashkin & Aiusha Khadzh by Peter Jennings
Photo of the Spiegeltent by Pat Beadry
Photo of Lucia Carbines by Danielle Covin