Bravo’s Real Housewives, a notoriously loose-lipped, sharp-tongued and thick-walletted species, aren’t generally known for having their freshly pedicured feet firmly on the ground, metaphorically speaking. But that is exactly where NeNe Leakes’ will be—quite literally—when she takes the stage for her first of 10 performances in Cirque du Soleil’s adults-only romp Zumanity: The Sensual Side of Cirque du Soleil on June 27.
“Oh, no, honey, I don’t fly,” the actress, clothing designer and breakout Atlanta Housewife reports drily from Los Angeles. She was taking a breather from rehearsals for Season 18 of Dancing With the Stars (a punishing crash course in professional-level hoofing that prepared her for a five-day run at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino). “But don’t worry,” she says in her honey-dipped Georgia drawl. “You’re gonna get all of me—all that NeNe style.”
Well … maybe not all of her. Unlike many of her Zumanity co-stars, Leakes will remain not only bound to the laws of gravity but also fully clothed—albeit scantly clad—relying on her famously brazen personality to do the flashing as the Mistress of Sensuality, a campy emcee who keeps the audience entertained in between various cheeky dance numbers and libidinous feats of acrobatics. To give you some idea of the hostess’ diva quotient, she is traditionally portrayed by “Edie,” a drag queen who looks not unlike a hybrid of ’60s-era Nancy Sinatra and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, but Leakes isn’t losing any sleep over filling her predecessor’s formidable stilettos.
“I’ve been acting since I was 16,” Leakes says. “I love performing and becoming crazy characters!”
Apart from a dance number and other technical stage blocking, the role is almost entirely improvised, but take it from a reality TV veteran known for her hilarious off-the-cuff quips: thinking on her feet won’t be a problem. “I don’t really do scripted,” Leakes laughs.
The Strip has seen its share of celebrity guest stars, but somewhat surprisingly, Cirque du Soleil—the largest live-entertainment producer in the world, with shows touring in 20 countries—hasn’t; Leakes will be the first celebrity ever to be incorporated “temporarily” into a Cirque cast in the company’s 30-year history. “I am so amazed and excited that they would choose me,” Leakes says. Though she had no formal dance training prior to Dancing With the Stars, in her live performances (she made it to the top 7) she exhibited a confident theatricality that overshadowed any technical missteps. And she’s amassed an impressive acting résumé in recent years, with guest spots on Glee and The New Normal that prove she’s got comedic chops beyond her trademark Bravo barbs.
Leakes’ 10 Zumanity appearances, June 27 through July 1, are a nod to the 10th anniversary of the show’s Vegas debut in September 2003. “Whenever we’ve come [to Vegas] before, we go for a few days, gamble and then leave,” Leakes says. But since her Zumanity stint will mean that she and her husband, Gregg, will be living on the Strip around the clock for more than two weeks, she realizes that the call of the casinos might pose temptations of a different variety than the ones she’ll be peddling onstage. “Yeah … we’re gonna have to have some ground rules,” she laughs.
Tickets start at $69. Showtimes are 7:30 and 10 p.m., dark Wednesdays and Thursdays. In New York-New York Hotel & Casino, 866.815.4365; zumanity.com